Inside the Grammys Boycott: Why Stars Including Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Justin Bieber Could Skip Music's Biggest Night
Frank Ocean declined to submit his latest work for Grammys consideration, calling it his "Colin Kaepernick moment"
The Grammy Awards might be missing some of the biggest names in music on Sunday, as stars who are taking issue with the Recording Academy are vowing to boycott the big show.
Although the controversy is smaller in scale to the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm last year, some artists are opting out of the Grammy Awards — or remaining circumspect about their possible attendance — for several reasons.
From concerns about racial inequality to questions about the continued relevance of the awards show that has been held annually since 1959, here are five things to know about this year’s Grammys controversy:
Frank Ocean Declined to Submit His Successful Album for Consideration
The 29-year-old hip-hop artist was the first big name to make it clear he’s distancing himself from the venerable awards show — and didn’t hold back about why. He told The New York Times last November that the Recording Academy — the organization made up of musicians, producers and other music professionals that is the force behind the Grammys — “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.”
He declined to submit his widely acclaimed album of last year, Blonde, for Grammys consideration, and called opting out of the show “his Colin Kaepernick moment.” (Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, made headlines last year for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.) He also declined to submit his “visual album,” Endless.
Kanye West Might Skip Too — as His Infamous Run-In with Beck Is Reexamined
Kanye West was as outspoken as ever following the Grammy Awards last year, tweeting last February that he would like to sit down with Recording Academy president Neil Portnow “right now” about making the Grammys “culturally relevant” again.
A recent article in The Atlantic points out that West’s infamous “storming” of the Grammys stage in 2015 when Beck beat Beyoncé for album of the year was an especially dramatic result of his ongoing frustration about racial inequality in the music industry. “For him and many others, Beck’s win embodied the great Grammy hypocrisy: It profits from boundary-pushing popular black artists by having them at the ceremony, but tends to reserve its top awards for more musically conservative white artists.”
Last October, West also told fans at a California concert that if Ocean was not nominated, “I’m not showing up to the Grammys. As artists, we’ve got to come together to fight the bulls—.”
Justin Bieber Could Skip After Reportedly Wondering Whether the Grammys Are ‘Relevant’
Not all of the artists who are threatening to boycott the Grammys are solely focused on issues surrounding race. Bieber is expected to take a pass on the big night, despite being nominated for album of the year. A source told TMZ that the 22-year-old “just doesn’t think the Grammys are relevant or representative, especially when it comes to young singers.”
Drake Will Be Touring in Europe on Grammy Night: Coincidence or Not?
Although it’s unclear whether it was an innocent scheduling conflict or not, one thing is crystal-clear: Drake will definitely not be appearing at the Grammys, despite his eight nominations.
“I don’t know why, but this year Drake decided that he should take dates in Europe on the weekend of the Grammys, so he’s not going to be with us. We would have loved to have had him, but he chose not to be here,” Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich recently told PEOPLE.
Although he’s less overtly political than many other artists, The Atlantic points out that despite almost 30 nominations, Drake only won once — in 2013 — and then used the trophy as a vessel for shots.
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Grammys Producers Say There Might Not Be a Boycott After All
With rumors swirling, Grammys producers are downplaying any hints of boycott — and say its possible stars including West and Bieber might show up after all.
“We’re actually still talking to Justin. Kanye, it’s probably going to be a question of — if it will happen, it will or won’t happen closer to the show,” Ehrlich recently told Entertainment Tonight.
“We’ve worked with Kanye many … times and we’ve actually been very much involved in the successes that he’s had,” Ehrlich added. “Some of his greatest performances have been on the Grammys. I would sure love to see him in the house.”
As for the possibility that Bieber could attend and perform, Ehrlich coyly replied, “You never know.”