Should the GRAMMYs Do Away with the General Field?

By Josh Schonfeld


It was almost midnight.  I was tired and needed to go to bed, but I had to stay up to see who won the biggest award at the GRAMMYs.  Would it be Adele, who gave us yet another incredible vocal masterpiece, or would it be Beyoncé, who pushed the boundaries of music with her intertwining of multiple genres on a single album?  With baited breath, I watched as Faith Hill & Tim MacGraw announced that Adele won Album of the Year.  I should have been ecstatic; Adele was my winner’s pick ever since 25 was released and was personally underwhelmed by Lemonade.  Yet why did I suddenly feel like everyone lost because of this decision to award Adele with the highest honors?

It’s because there was a decision at all.  Each year, the GRAMMYs give out awards to every genre known to man and then turns around to pit these genres against each other in what is called the General Field (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist).  But why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  How can you judge the lyrical artistry of a rapper against the powerful storytelling of a country artist or the irresistible hooks of a pop singer?

The way Academy voting works is that each member is able to vote for up to 15 categories they have expertise in as well as all the general field categories.  That means that Kelly Clarkson, for instance, is able to vote in all of the pop categories as well as the country categories since she has expertise in both fields.  What is odd is that the Academy attempts to restrict voters from voting in categories they have no expertise in, yet they allow them to blindly vote between genres in the general field.

Back in 1974, the Primetime Emmy Awards decided to create the “Super Emmy,” which would be awarded to the winner of a runoff between the Best Drama and Best Comedy award winners.  When Mary Tyler Moore won the Super Emmy for Best Actress, she described the award as comparing “apples to oranges,” to which Best Actor winner, Alan Alda, added to in his speech, “it’s like comparing apples to oranges to Volkswagens.”  The Super Emmy was never seen again.

What the Super Emmy taught us is that general field categories end up coming down to politics as opposed to actual craft.  Should Beyoncé be upset that she “only” won Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video?  Should Adele be happy that her record label ran a better campaign than the other nominees to garner enough votes from the Academy?  I won’t even get into the undertones of racism surrounding general field categories which have seen few persons of color winners in the recent decade.  Just like Moore and Alda said back in 1974, it’s comparing multiple ideals that end up watering down the categories as a whole.

Now, we have Adele fans and Beyoncé fans at each other’s throats with a multitude of other artists’ fans boycotting the event because of the broken system the academy uses to give out nominations and awards.  Not only did Adele and Beyoncé both deserve to win Album of the Year, but so did Drake, Sturgill Simpson, Justin Bieber and so many others that won their genre-specific awards but weren’t able to garner enough support for a general field nomination.

In the end, each nominee should be celebrated no matter if they win or lose.  The awards are merely a sideshow to the massive lineup of performers the GRAMMYs have each year anyways.  There doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to the issue and there’s of course the problem of those artists that transcend genre, like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Drake and so many others.  What we learned last night is that music isn’t about winning or losing a hunk of metal, it’s about the emotions each artist is able to provide to the listener, whether it’s happy, sad, angry or a plethora of other feelings music gives us, in just an hour’s worth of sound.