The Grammys—and the subsquent flood of questions like “Who Is Arcade Fire?” and “Who Is Esperanza Spalding?”—may be a distant memory at this point, but Steve Stoute, a former music executive based in New York, and now an advertising executive with Translation, hasn’t forgotten. On Sunday, he placed an open letter to the Grammys’ organizing body, NARAS, in a full-page New York Times ad. (The ad is available in PDF form at Translation’s site.) Stoute criticized the Grammys for honoring acts out of sync with current music, and for Arcade Fire’s show-closing performance after their win. The band was ready to perform, Stoute wrote sarcastically, “in a moment of sheer coincidence.”
We reached Stoute for his first interview on the subject as he traveled back to New York from the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. “I watched the show with a few artists who refused to go. I was watching with an artist who received six nominations, who refused. Everybody expected the normal letdown. When Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, I wasn’t taken aback by that. What I was taken aback by–after they performed to close the show. Then they win Album of the Year. Then they’re ready to perform [a second time]. That’s when it becomes the WWE. They’ve gone too far in showing the world that it’s premeditated.”
If the show’s premeditated in this way, wouldn’t it make more sense to give a top award to a crowd-pleaser like Eminem, then? “Eminem and Kanye keep chasing this elusive award… it’s part of the cynical circumstance in which they keep coming back.” Stoute doesn’t necessarily believe, it seems, that the awards are rigged against them, but that a fatal lack of transparency in the awards-giving process (including the longevity of less-plugged-in voters and their possible collusion with show producers to orchestrate big moments like the Arcade Fire performance) dooms the Grammys to irrelevance.
“The feedback I’m hearing–artists are saying I’m not coming next year. Why would I show up on TV to be the star of my own demise? Many, many artists are very upset. Everybody knows the artists that I’ve worked with.” Stoute has business dealings with Jay-Z–could he be the six-time nominee who skipped this year’s show in frustration? “He wasn’t there because he’s just sick of it. They showed his picture [during the broadcast], and it’s from Reasonable Doubt. They don’t even have a picture more recent out of the last 15 years.”
Stoute mentioned that popular artists are curious about the possibility of creating a more artist-driven awards ceremony, or at least better understanding the voting system and production methods of the notoriously tight-lipped and confounding NARAS. “The same thing happened after the Bush election, in Florida. People were saying, wait a minute, we don’t understand this. It forced everybody to understand–I didn’t know this, I didn’t know about electoral votes.” The Observer mentioned that it had seemed most winners gave acceptance speeches immediately after performing. “There you go! You’re thinking–wait a minute, where’s Vince McMahon?”
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