Kanye West’s stormy relationship with the Grammys erupts again

When the latest Grammy nominations were announced in November, Kanye West garnered five nods, including album of the year, heralding a potential reconciliation between one of pop music’s most mercurial stars. and the institution he has spent much of the past two decades criticizing, tough and at times downright insulting — even as West yearned for his affirmation.

But last Friday, just over two weeks before the 64th annual Grammy Awards, scheduled for April 3 in Las Vegas — and weeks of negotiations over a planned performance at the show — organizers told West’s team that wouldn’t be allowed to perform, according to a rep for the rapper and producer.

Organizers cited West’s erratic and troubling public behavior in recent weeks, according to a person with knowledge of the decision, who was granted anonymity to discuss an internal matter.

This behavior included the release of an animated music video that depicted the kidnapping and burial of a character who looked a lot like Pete Davidson – the comedian who was dating West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian – and a post Instagram taunting Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,” which is hosting this year’s Grammys, with a racial slur that resulted in West being banned from Instagram for 24 hours. (Noah said on Twitter that he didn’t didn’t ask for West to be cut. “I said advise Kanye not to cancel Kanye,” he said. wrote.)

For West, an eternal agent of music chaos, the episode was perhaps just the latest blur of sensational headlines. But for the Grammys, it’s also a setback in a campaign to bring West home. He is perhaps the most vocal of a circle of high-profile black designers – also including Jay-Z, Drake, the Weekend and Frank Ocean – who have condemned the Grammys for often failing to recognize creators’ work. of color, especially in hip-hop, in its most prominent categories.

The Recording Academy, which hands out the awards, went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate West, who won 22 Grammys during his career. For the latest show, a last-minute rule change resulted in West being added to the ballot for album of the year.

In an interview with Billboard, Harvey Mason Jr., general manager of the academy, said that when the initial list of nominees was prepared with eight contenders in major competitions, he noticed a shortage of rap in the top categories. Within days, a proposal to expand the ballot to 10 spots in those categories was approved by the academy’s board, bringing “Donda,” as well as Taylor Swift’s “Evermore,” into consideration. for best album.

Since becoming the academy’s head last year, Mason has made personal appeals to dissident artists, including West. This awareness and Album of the Year nomination sparked frustration and anger among some members of the academy, who were appalled by West’s past antics, such as posting a video on social media. in 2020 that shows an apparently soiled Grammy trophy in a toilet bowl.

“How despicable and disrespectful,” said Diane Warren, the Grammy-winning songwriter of hits like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” at the time.

West’s recent behavior on social media has made mending fences even riskier for the Recording Academy. Ever an oversharer, West recently took to his Instagram account to air grievances over custody and child custody issues amid his divorce from Kardashian. This dispute coincided with West’s attacks on Davidson, as well as figures like Noah who criticized the musician’s posts as bordering on threats and harassment.

Still, for the Recording Academy, the reconciliation with West could have symbolic power, suggesting that the institution’s efforts to revamp its voting membership and adapt to a rapidly changing music industry with younger and more diverse audiences were working. .

West’s complaints about the Grammys go back at least 17 years. In 2005, before that year’s nominations were even announced, West was telling Grammys voters that if he didn’t win album of the year for “Late Registration,” his second LP, he would award the loss to a judgment of his personal behavior rather than to his art.

“I don’t care about jumping up and down on the couch right now like Tom Cruise,” he told MTV News at the time. “I don’t care how much stunt work I do – you can never take away the amount of work I put into it.” (He lost to U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”.)

Since then, West’s criticism of the Grammys has been sporadic but relentless. In 2015, for example, after Beck won album of the year for “Morning Phase,” West demanded that the alt-rock musician give the award to Beyoncé instead, echoing her infamous moment with Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. He warned that such choices by Grammy voters would alienate “true artists.”

“Because what happens is,” West said, “when you keep diminishing the artistry and disrespecting the craft and punching people in the face after they perform musical feats monumental – it’s disrespectful to inspiration.”

Although West won’t be performing at this year’s Grammys, he’s still invited to attend as a nominee — which presents a tricky problem for the academy if West wins a major award like album of the year. Would he take advantage of a live television speech to make more incendiary comments, either about his personal life or about the Grammys themselves?

To protect the show’s producers and for CBS, the longtime Grammys broadcast network, standard editing deadlines are built into the show. In 2017, for example, Grammy audiences heard Adele let out a frustrated profanity after missing the opening of a tribute to George Michael; people watching at home just heard beeps.

Joe Coscarelli contributed reporting.

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