Steve Stoute Blasts NARAS and Grammys in Open Letter

Steve Stoute

Music industry tycoon Steve Stoute is calling out The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and its president, Neil Portnow. The Commissioner, who’s masterminded million-dollar deals for artists like Jay-Z and Gwen Stefani, has taken out a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times chiding the Grammys for awarding less popular artists such as Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding over chart toppers Justin Bieber, Eminem, and Kanye West in past years. Stoute believes the artists are being used for ratings and that the “Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary pop culture.” Do you agree? Read his fiery words below.

Over the course of my 20-year history as an executive in the music business and as the owner of a firm that specializes in in-culture advertising, I have come to the conclusion that the Grammy Awards have clearly lost touch with contemporary popular culture. My being a music fan has left me with an even greater and deeper sense of dismay—so much so that I feel compelled to write this letter. Where I think that the Grammys fail stems from two key sources: (1) over-zealousness to produce a popular show that is at odds with its own system of voting and (2) fundamental disrespect of cultural shifts as being viable and artistic.

As an institution that celebrates artistic works of musicians, singers, songwriters, producers and technical specialists, we have come to expect that the Grammys upholds all of the values that reflect the very best in music that is born from our culture. Unfortunately, the awards show has become a series of hypocrisies and contradictions, leaving me to question why any contemporary popular artist would even participate. How is it possible that in 2001 The Marshall Mathers LP—an album by Eminem that ushered in the Bob Dylan of our time—was beaten out by Steely Dan (no disrespect) for Album Of The Year? While we cannot solely utilize album sales as the barometer, this was certainly not the case. Not only is Eminem the best-selling artist of the last decade, but The Marshall Mathers LP was a critical and commercial success that sold over 10 million albums in the United States (19 million worldwide), while Steely Dan sold less than 10% of that amount and came and went as quietly as a church mouse. Or consider even that in 2008 at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, after going into the night as the most-nominated artist, Kanye West’s Graduation was beaten out for Album Of The Year by Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters. (This was the first time in 43 years that a jazz album won this category.) While there is no doubt in my mind of the artistic talents of Steely Dan or Herbie Hancock, we must acknowledge the massive cultural impact of Eminem and Kanye West and how their music is shaping, influencing and defining the voice of a generation. It is this same cultural impact that acknowledged the commercial and critical success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1984.

Just so that I’m not showing partiality to hip-hop artists (although it would be an entirely different letter as to how hip-hop music has been totally diminished as an art form by this organization), how is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist? Again, his cultural impact and success are even more quantifiable if you factor in his YouTube and Vevo viewership—the fact that he was a talent born entirely of the digital age whose story was crafted in the most humble method of being “discovered” purely for his singing ability (and it should be noted that Justin Bieber plays piano and guitar, as evidenced on his early viral videos).

So while these very artists that the public acknowledges as being worthy of their money and fandom are snubbed year after year at the Grammys, the awards show has absolutely no qualms in inviting these same artists to perform. At first I thought that you were not paying attention to the fact that the mental complexion of the world is becoming tanned, that multiculturalism and poly-ethnicity are driving new meaning as to what is culturally relevant. Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem’s, Kanye West’s or Justin Bieber’s name in the billing to ensure viewership and to deliver the all-too-important ratings for its advertisers.

What truly inspired the writing of this letter was that this most recent show fed my suspicions. As the show was coming to a close and just prior to presenting the award for Album Of The Year, the band Arcade Fire performed “Month of May”—only to… surprise… win the category and, in a moment of sheer coincidence, happened to be prepared to perform “Ready to Start.”

Does the Grammys intentionally use artists for their celebrity, popularity and cultural appeal when they already know the winners and then program a show against this expectation? Meanwhile the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hides behind the “peer” voting system to escape culpability for not even rethinking its approach.

And I imagine that next year there will be another televised super-close-up of an astonished front-runner as they come to the realization before a national audience… that he or she was used.

You are being called to task at this very moment, NARAS.

And to all of the artists that attend the Grammys: Stop accepting the invitation to be the upset of the year and demand that this body upholds its mission for advocacy and support of artistry as culture evolves.

Demand that they change this system and truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art.

[The Huffington Post]



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48 Comments

  1. Yeah

    who?

    [Reply]

    From Tokyo Reply:

    @Yeah, Thank you.

    Popular music (that is not technically superior) is what the MTV/BET Music awards are for! I started to feel supremely disgusted before I even read his article (only rap-up’s summary). People like him need the basic crap to win in order to keep making money, because if real artists mostly (or completely) supporting themselves then it cuts them out of the action. He needs to sit all the way down and not speak again!

    I feel so bad for the winners because the media/so-called music “fans” have villified them to a small degree just for winning. They didn’t ask to win and yet people act like they are the enemy. What a bitter follow-up to what should be a victory. And what makes it worse is that IF Bieber and Eminem and the other popular artists would have won people STILL would complain! I feel Janelle should have won in her category and should have been nominated for Album of the Year because her album was near-perfect. But what sense would it make for me to actually GET MAD cause she didn’t? I’m not Janelle Monae, am I? People have really lost their grip on reality – they get obsessed with these artists then take it like a personal insult when their favs don’t win. It’s scary, actually.

    The Grammys are supposed to be about the music NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST! Ano baka hontou ni nanimo wakatteinai na!

    [Reply]

  2. Trey

    Just because your in the mainstream and sold a million records, doesnt promise you that you will win a grammy. Yes, some popular acts made a effect in the world, but its not like there’s independent acts in the world who havent tried just as hard to make their voice heard.

    [Reply]

  3. umm...

    wow…this actually makes a lot of sense…

    [Reply]

  4. James Derry'l

    YES. I’m happy somebody said it…
    It’s starting to get a little bit ridiculous.

    [Reply]

  5. BrittBrittM

    The grammys are base on talent not on how many albums an artist sells. I agree 100% with Trey

    [Reply]

  6. Jon

    talk to ‘em Steve!

    [Reply]

  7. tina

    Actually no I dont agree with him at all.While yes the Grammys did use to award some of the most popular artist their awards,those artists talent was awarded too.Now days someones popularity doesnt necessarily equal talent.The Grammys to me has always awarded a few artist, many a lot of people hadnt heard of,some of the best awards of the night.I personally think the Grammys has gone down.Actually I think the Grammy is now more then ever catering to artist popularity rather then their talent so I dont really see where he is coming from.I didnt know who he was but i see his belief about the music industry is one of the reasons why its in such crap shape today.
    (just my opinion)

    [Reply]

  8. JWhy

    Our Dear Mr. Stoute is ignoring some essential facts:

    - The awards are voted on by NARAS members, not decided in a back room with the exception of lifetime achievement awards and such. There is no conspiracy. Otherwise ow to explain Esperaza Spalding, Arcade Fire and Alison Krause/RObert Plant a few years ago? I take my voting very seriously.

    - Secondly, the categories in the Grammy’s and the Latin Grammy’s have changed to reflect the changing culture. It ain’t perfect but it’s not so broken as he suggests.

    No I don’t agree with the final tally, ad if left up to me, the nominations round would come out different in many cases. But I am not a committee of one.

    I would respectfully suggest that Mr Stoute wouldn’t turn down an award if it were offered to someone he deemed worthy…..but he’s no committee of one either.

    [Reply]

  9. jayjayjj50

    This guy is right and wrong. He wrong in stating that the grammys should focus on popular artist that sell well. Some of the examples he brings up are correct. I hope he does write a letter how hip-hop and rap have been overlooked by the grammys. MMLP and Graduation not winning AOTY in the year they were nominated is a slap in the face to the hip-hop/rap community. Both of those albums were critically and commercial successes. What does a hip-hop/rap artist have to do in order to win AOTY at the grammys?

    [Reply]

  10. DJay

    He sounds ignorant to the process of GRAMMY voting. It seems that he wants all the popular artists to win GRAMMYs regardless of quality and artistic merit. Point is, Eminem did NOT deserve to win AOTY over Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire’s album had way better reviews that Eminem’s trashy album. No way in the world Justin Bieber should have won Best New Artist over Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Drake or Esperanza Spalding. It’s NOT called Best New Artist that made an impact on popular culture. This is NOT the VMAs or The BET Awards. Also, it was just last year the GRAMMY voters went outside of their usual state and named Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” SONG OF THE YEAR. I do not think the GRAMMYs are a weird award show, but it’s not like they have paid attention to pop culture, and they shouldn’t just sweep the great non-mainstream stuff under the rug for mediocre mainstream trash. He needs to get over it. The voters went with quality over popularity and I give them an A for that.

    [Reply]

    mcm Reply:

    @DJay,

    you idiot, please learn to read. He said eminem’s MMLP deserved to win back in 2001. And just like they gave steely dan the prize because it was ‘their time’, eminem deserved it over arcade fire this year because it was ‘his time’ but the grammy contradicted itself there. Arcade Fire’s first album deserved to win too, but did it? no. The grammys are messed and slaps hip hop in the face every year.
    Would people watch the grammys with performances by Spalding, Arcade Fire, Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan? Or an awards show with Eminem, Kanye West, Bieber etc.
    The grammys use the big stars for ratings, it’s obvious.

    [Reply]

  11. gh

    Well said!

    [Reply]

  12. Myrna Greenfield

    Dear Mr. Stoute:
    Re ur NY Times page ad — Eons ago I voted in the Grammy’s, carousing my way thru various recording companies. There is of course disappointment at the end.
    Popularity is not artistry, Mr. Stoute, and artistry is not commerciality. Your letter, I think, mixes apples & oranges. Eminem, while popular, is done an injustice when compared to Dylan, the artist. He has too much to live up to when you do that. You are frustrated. I am sorry.
    Wishing you best luck next year.

    [Reply]

  13. meme

    Well to the people are responding that being popular doesnt promise u a grammy and that the grammys award based on talent and not sales/popularity…..are you guys tryin to say that Gaga Justin Kanye and Em isnt talented? Sometimes I do agree with the Grammy choices even when the winner is less popular….like the year when Beyonce lost album of the year to Kings of Leon, but for the most part it is just rediculous. We all know damn well that that Girl wasnt suppose to win best new artist this year and that wasnt suppose to win album of the year.

    Take rihanna for example….look at how much #1 singles she has but she doesnt have hardly any grammys and that is fine with me becuz she isnt the most talented. Im not sayin give all the awards to artist liek rihanna becuz of their popularity but do not deprive artist like Em and Justin becuz of their popularity becuz they are talented too

    [Reply]

    jessica Reply:

    @meme, rihanna isn’t talented? how can you say that and she’s your avatar? smh lol

    thugprincess is right when you have 4 grammys you have way more than beauty…

    [Reply]

  14. TA2802

    Yes, these acts like Eminem and Justin Bieber have sold a lot, but it doesn’t mean their music is highly critically acclaimed. Isn’t that what the Grammys are all about? Emimen’s Recovery is all right, but it didn’t have as much acclaim as The Marshall Mathers LP and even the Steely Dan album must have been better than for it to win. Don’t get me wrong – I really like Eminem, but Arcade Fire definitely deserved to win – I think it all depends on the quality of music i.e. the lyrics and the instrumental. Don’t even get me started on Justin Bieber… yes he can play the piano and guitar… that does not mean that he is a good artist or that his music is either, because it’s not and it has not had critical acclaim either. Esperanza Spalding has shown the most potential for the future, she was not very well known when she arrived and left being known by everyone… don’t you think the committee would pick someone more well known for Best New Artist? Her music is obviously very good and that’s why she won. Grammys shouldn’t depend on what cultural impact an artist has had… it should depend on the music they have created. Also sales and certifications shouldn’t be accounted for a win… that’s why Eminem didn’t win all of his categories. Now on to Kanye… his “Power” was nominated for Best Rap Solo and Eminem won for “Not Afraid” but Kanye should have won… that’s probably because the Grammy committee thought that Eminem had to win at least one out of his 10 nominations, to keep him happy and because he didn’t deserve to win any of the other categories… however in my eyes “Power” did deserve to win because of it’s acclaim and high musical quality. Kanye’s latest album has been very critically acclaimed and much more than “808s”, so we’ll see whether he will be nominated and whether he will win, which I hope he does. Altogether Grammys should be won for the music and that’s why Lady Antebellum, Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding and the others won… because their music is good, had acclaim and neither because they did or didn’t necessarily break records in sales.

    [Reply]

    mcm Reply:

    @TA2802, The steely dan album was a critical mess. That’s what he’s saying, the grammy contradicts itself.

    [Reply]

  15. LeeLee

    I wonder how Stoute feels about Alicia Keys, an artist who has commercial and critical success, being shut out of the Grammys completely with her last two albums… Contemporary R&B artists are treated worse than the hip-hop artists by the Grammy committee.

    [Reply]

  16. fidelix

    @ trey i agree with you tht you need to be talented to win a grammy,but how about artists those who sell millions of records? u think fans buy their albums because their not talented? get urself right.NARAS has to wake up to the new age,what shocks me most is justin bieber not winning best new artist

    [Reply]

  17. ThugPrincess

    @meme….excuse me, i am not a rihanna “fan” but hey she has won 4 grammy awards already,

    [Reply]

  18. Beystanbish

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    [Reply]

    tae Reply:

    @Beystanbish, weird,poor soul of your’s

    [Reply]

  19. Chris

    I am a little confused by Mr. Stoute’s letter. I believe that the voters are really looking at the BEST in each category. To me he is acting like Eminem and Kanye never won a Grammy!!! Eminem has 13 Grammy wins and Kanye has 14 wins! No they will NOT win every award they are nominated for but Mr. Stoute doesn’t need to act like they don’t get recognized. If he feels that popularity deserves awards then he needs to really extend his musical mind. There are sooo many independent artist of all genres who put out albums that would shit over a lot of artist nominated in the top categories at the Grammys. IF he wants to argue or “call out” the NARAS and the Grammy committee how about he write a open letter about the fact that more categories needs to be recognized on the live telecast instead of the pre-telecast.

    [Reply]

    xedos Reply:

    @Chris, the problem is Jazz get the elitist treatment. Kanye should have won that year.They act like only jazz musicians are real musicians
    if JB was playing Jazz he would have won. JB plays about 4 instruments, but because he’s a pop artist its overlook

    [Reply]

    MusicMusic01 Reply:

    @xedos, I like some of Bieber’s stuff but he’s not as talented as the person that won. So what if he can play 4 instruments. The Jazz musician that won has learned to played some of the most difficult chords and composition. These people work their butts off for little attention, and they don’t complain not one bit.

    [Reply]

    xedos Reply:

    @Chris, he’s talking about album of the year.

    [Reply]

  20. A+ S+

    he is right,because that girl who won new artist of the year, that wasn’t and i am not a JB fan,but wrong is wrong,she didn’t even won anything in the jazz category,i know alot of people don’t like JB but her deserved new artist of the year,the girl new she didn’t deserve it but they gave it to her what can she do than accept,it,s not her fault though.

    [Reply]

  21. Chris C.

    I dont see why it matters. These artist will continue to make money with or without a grammy. Its just fun to say you won one

    [Reply]

  22. JHP

    Oh STFU about “The grammys are based on talent”. Popularity doesn’t eqaul talent, but neither does obscurity. Every year the grammys always give awards to someone no one’s heard of. How the hell did Kanye West lose to Herbie Hancock in 2007, the dude doesn’t even sing. It does make sense, the grammys are quick to invite Justin Bieber to perform to boost ratings, but won’t give him best new artist. They do the same thing every year, put a bunch of big frontrunners and one unknown person and always give it to the unknow person it’s BS

    [Reply]

  23. xedos

    If the Grammy doesn’t think these ppl who’s name they use to promote the show are good enough or talented enough, then don’t use their names. If they’re not good enough to be awarded then they should not be good enough to use to make money. The Grammy should use the ppl who they think are so talented to promote the show, but they won’t because they ass no knows no one would watch. M&M, Kanye, Gaga with lots of nominations is a better sell to the companies who buys advertisement spots than Esperanza or arcade on fire.

    [Reply]

  24. xedos

    People hate on POP artist, but what would be the music industry without pop. Esperanza or Arcade on fire are not going to sell 2 or 3 million.
    pop and Hip hop keep this industry going

    [Reply]

  25. Heminem

    COULD NOT AGREE MORE!

    The Album of the Year didnt even win in its genre (Alternative album of the year). If it is not good enough to be the best in its genre how the F is it good enough for album of the year!?

    [Reply]

  26. Karen

    Bravo. This is something that’s been needing to be said for many years.

    [Reply]

  27. From Tokyo

    Just read this again more carefully and I still think the same. Make no mistake that the artists themselves want to perform at the Grammys for self-promotion. They get something out of it whether they win or not. What about when artists like India.Arie are nominated for several awards in a night and receive none? Or is it only bad for the popular, mainstream artists when this happens?

    [Reply]

  28. A+ S+

    From Tokyo so you onestly from the bottom of your heart see nothing wrong with the way the grammies are going,you said the populer artist is doing these performances for self-promotion,they are popular for a reason it,s not like they are some unknown trying to come up and are hungry for self-promotion,and your accomplishments and you are wrong if you don’t think they don’t really want to win a grammy….a grammy is the ultimate self-promotion if you ask me,people gives you more respect when you have a grammy to your name,just like a Academy Awards that puts you on a different level.

    [Reply]

    From Tokyo Reply:

    @A+ S+, You know, you would have a point if these up-and-coming people had nominated themselves. Esperanza Spalding was as surprised as anyone that she had even been nominated and came across as real and humble. Is she supposed to insult them by not showing up to accept what she considered an honor? It is merely a bonus for a real artist to be recognized by their “peers”/monetarily compensated for their talent – not the primary motivation. I respect this type, not the other. The other type is amusing at times and annoying at others.

    I really don’t care anymore – that was earlier today and I’m bored with the topic right now. So long as there are artists putting out real music and don’t stop just because they don’t sell or win awards or people don’t know/like/appreciate then I’m satisfied.

    [Reply]

  29. tj h

    the grammys give awards to pop strs ll the time. they’ve given awards to michael, prince, beyonce, jay-z, eminem. etc…. the artists that perform actually are rewarded with their grammy on national tv. Unless ur an r&b singer.

    Hip Hop pop stars have won when they deserved it and Outkast & Lauryn Hill won album of the yr b/c they deserved it. Eminem is just a writer but his production on this cd was weak,

    [Reply]

  30. BOBKAT

    Ral talk, I can’t even bring myself to watch the whole show these days coz of the strange artist that keep winning.

    [Reply]

  31. ait

    my problem is why not a single rnb award was televised?

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  32. ait

    my problem is why not a single rnb award was televised? i think the grammies might be racist

    [Reply]

  33. fi

    This guy is a joke!
    I read half of his open letter
    it should have been a closed letter !
    LMAO
    what an idiot! comparing MJ to Eminem and Justin Bieber beeing described as the archetype of a modern artist is a joke too
    justin does not even have a beard yet!
    LOL

    [Reply]

  34. roro

    nah i think what what the grammies did was right even though i didn’t know most of the artists that won
    grammies is the only place where talented individuals who aren’t mainstream still has a chance to gain recognition. they worked just as hard for their talented and pop culture award shows such as MTV would never give recognition to these less known talents

    [Reply]

  35. Michael

    I don’t agree with him one bit! I’m glad that people like Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding won Grammys this year because the Grammys are just a popularity contest that overlook underrated talent. It seems like the same people are nominated and win every year (ex: Beyonce, Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rihanna, etc.) It’s time for something new and it’s time for people of all music genres to be rewarded for their hardwork.

    [Reply]

  36. blahblah

    grammy is a mess

    chris brown said the truth !! if u don’t sucks them, you’ll never win

    this should be ALL about TALENT and not number of sales
    number of sales don’t mean anything!!!
    and when we see the performances… o my god horrible!! this is dat the exemple for young people?? a girl that brings heat while she’s performing to show other thing than her lack of talent??
    dumbasses!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    [Reply]

  37. ET FuturisticLover

    the grammys just represent the whole industry. it’s all about lying, being fake, selling your soul and it’s all about making money.

    [Reply]

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