Is Tyler The Creator Right About The Grammy’s?

Tyler The Creator at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards

2010 seems like a lifetime ago. Jersey Shore and Glee were the talks of TV everywhere, Obama was President, and “Love The Way You Lie” was an inescapable hit. In the midst of the recession and a boom of iPads to the world, a budding producer and rapper from LA made a tweet sending out his goals into the universe.

Tyler The Creator was the author of that tweet, and of a small speech after achieving the last of his many goals in that tweet.

“I’m half and half on it. On one side, I’m very grateful that what I made could just be acknowledged in a world like this. But also, it sucks that whenever we, and I mean guys that look like me, do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a ‘rap’ or ‘urban’ category. … I don’t like that ‘urban’ word. To me, it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word. Why can’t we just be in pop?”

How could a person go from wanting something so much for over a decade, to questioning what it means to get that golden trophy? It’s all about genres, and the box being associated with a genre that puts a creative into. To properly break this all down let’s look at what is Pop and Urban Contemporary music while looking at who Tyler The Creator is and has been as an artist.

Tyler himself has over the past decade been a producer, rapper, singer, arranger, mix engineer, director, actor, fashion designer, and all-around creative mastermind behind dozens of projects in and outside of music. Releasing numerous solo projects working side-by-side with Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, ScHoolboy Q, Charlie Wilson, and Lil Wayne, Tyler has since the beginning spoken of his adoration of all music. His idols are Stevie Wonder and Pharrell, while often talking highly of Jay-Z and early Eminem for the same reasons; the musical and off-record individuality that separated themselves from the world by following their ideas through. As an all-around creative, being put into a box (or genre) in of itself is a tricky subject. Now pair an outspoken creative with the idea of Pop music, the most complicated genre to understand and define across history.
If you look across time it’s varied between Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Katey Perry, Just Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Adele and many more. What most of these acts have in common is that the music the created was 1) insanely popular 2) based around short, simple, and catchy songs that are sung solo 3) showcased elements of other smaller genres at the time but in ways easy enough for the masses to understand. Justin Timberlake’s solo music was based in R&B and Dance music. Michael Jackson was based in R&B, Disco, and occasionally even Rock. Taylor Swift has a home in Country and uses EDM elements as well. So what is Pop music? In my opinion, a watered-down amalgamation of various genres with a basis in singing catchy songs with a simple song structure that becomes popular to the masses. But what about the people that make pop music that isn’t popular? That exists too, but don’t really fit here thanks to Tyler’s album selling over 160,000 units week one alone (sorry DJ Khaled). So with this definition of Pop music at hand is IGOR that? While IGOR is an amalgamation of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music it lacks the simplicity that traditional pop music holds. So is Tyler actually redefining and raising the bar for what pop music is? Or is it an album deserving of the dreaded “Urban Contemporary” title?

Frank Ocean accepting his GRAMMY for Best Urban Contemporary Album with “channel ORANGE” in 2013

Urban Contemporary is a category the Grammys have used since 2013 to throw the albums are mixes of traditional black genres by black acts. The winners of Urban Contemporary since it was created follow in reverse order as Lizzo, The Carters (Beyonce & Jay-Z), The Weeknd, Beyoncé solo, The Weeknd again, Pharrell, Rihanna, and Frank Ocean. What do essentially all of these acts have in common? They are all black acts that make pop music with elements of R&B or Hip-Hop included in varying degrees throughout their projects. Now looking at winners in the Pop category the past 5 years in reverse order we have Billie Ellish, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, Adele, and Taylor Swift. What do these artists all have in common? They are all white acts that make pop music with elements of Rock, EDM or Country music involved. So according to the Grammys by comparing these two award you’re Pop if you’re white making pop music with traditionally white genres (which let’s not forget who invented rock and had major hands in reshaping EDM and Country music to what it is seen today) incorporated but you’re Urban Contemporary if you’re a black Pop artist who mixes in traditionally black genres into your music. By critical thinking, it’s not unfair to criticize the Grammy’s for in so many words having a “white pop” and a “black pop” category right in front of our faces. So does that mean IGOR is a Pop record? According to the Grammys it would be closest to an Urban Contemporary album, which is essentially “black pop” music, so yes it is a pop record (only took 4 paragraphs to get that squared away). Then how did it end up in the Hip-Hop category over both Urban and Pop?

When an artist submits their album for consideration for a Grammy award they pick the categories they want their work to be judged in. “So you’re telling me Tyler put his own album in the hip-hop category and got mad about it?” Well, here is a quote from the Grammy website on the process in which albums and songs are sorted into their categories.

“More than 150 experts across various musical fields meet to ensure that recordings are placed in their appropriate categories. These committees do not make artistic or technical judgments about the recordings, but merely ensure that each entry is placed in the proper category. From there, we arrive at the official first-round ballot.”

Now the Grammy submission process is kind of vague to us outsiders who have never attempted to win a Grammy, but is by all accounts seems that you choose what categories you want to be submitted in, the Grammys’ 150 chosen experts decide whether the categories you selected are fitting, and then it gets voted on numerous times leading to the night of the award show. So did Tyler and his label submit the album under Pop? They very well could have, just to be readjusted by the committee “experts”. So whether Tyler is to blame for his own classification is vague, but seemingly he is not.

So, how do we fix this? Is it putting Urban Contemporary and Pop together and calling it just simply “Pop”. Is it getting rid of the experts and letting acts submit to whatever categories they feel fit? Or is it not involving ourselves into this same mess every year to a committee that has in recent months (after years of controversy) been exposed even more so to be a rigged event that allows corporate relationships and popularity to dictate a ceremony that is supposed to be based in rewarding quality above all else? In however artists chose to conduct themselves going forward, looking to Tyler and his speech as the basis for a full anti-Grammy stance is one to put trust in. He spoke in a well thought out manner that may go against his typical outlandish image, and he spoke truth to a problem that has existed not just in music, but in the world for generations about defining creatives and their creations.

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Founder & Head Of Gembox Entertainment. South Florida Superstar.

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Anthony Seaman

Anthony Seaman

Founder & Head Of Gembox Entertainment. South Florida Superstar.

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