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Did the Grammys separate art from the artist or miss the point of cancel culture?


Amid a hugely tumultuous time for the world, award ceremonies have unexpectedly occupied more column inches than necessary, and sadly this has been for all the wrong reasons. Last night, the Grammys controversially handed out awards to Louis C.K. and the Kanye West track ‘Jail’ which features Marilyn Manson. Both Louis C.K. and Manson have recently seen sexual assault allegations levelled against them.

Prior to the ceremony, the Recording Academy President, Harvey Mason Jr., addressed this issue when he said, “We won’t look at people’s history.” This firmly delineated the organisation’s stance of separating the art from the artists and avoiding any revisionist views on the matter. This has proved to be a point that has stuck in the craw of many.

The moral crux of it is that the Grammys – as with all award ceremonies – are arbitrary by their very nature. As the night’s big winner Jon Batiste opined in his own best album acceptance speech: “I truly believe this to my core—there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor.”

Continuing: “The creative arts are subjective, and they reach people at a point in their lives when they need it most. It’s like a song, or an album is made, and it almost has a radar to find the person when they need it the most.”

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With that in mind, the simple question is why the ceremony saw fit to brace inevitable backlash by dishing out nettlesome awards. While it is not the job of the Grammys to be moral arbiters of society, there is a difference between so-called vindictive and merciless cancel culture and giving stars currently facing abhorrent sexual assault charges a pat on the back.

The nature of the crimes allegedly perpetrated by those under scrutiny means that the outrage the Grammys has subsequently attracted is far from people clutching their pearls over innocuities. In an era whereby every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, the anger is the result of moral disregard.

The Grammys sadly seem to have misread the room and their place in culture. This is not the Noble Prize awards, and it is most certainly not illuminating the world with a spotlight shining on artistic advancements. It is a glitzy ceremony set up so the press can get selfies with pop stars, musicians get to pat each other on the back, and maybe a slapping headline or two will arise.

In other words, it would hardly have been a blighting bullet for the integrity of the arts if controversial figures were overlooked and the arbitrary gongs rewarded great artists who aren’t shrouded in issues that go way beyond nettlesome. They didn’t even have to condemn the acts they eventually credited. They merely had a choice to avoid controversy and celebrate the other million superb artistic efforts they had to choose from, and help champion virtuous artists in times of a heightened need for hope and harmony.

It is a point often missed in so-called cancel culture that judging things with a socially conscious eye helps to set progressive moral precedents. On the one hand, we are all fallible, and mercy and the chance of redemption must always be upheld. However, to put it simply, there are plenty of great works out there worth celebrating without the dower association of the crimes linked to Louis C.K and Marilyn Manson that don’t send a dangerous signal out.

After all, art is indelibly linked to the artist in an inherent sense, and with so many great artists of virtue whose works have commercially suffered through a lack of fortune alone, the benefit of increasingly socially conscious critique is that integrity is now rewarded. The Grammys seem to have missed this point and perpetuated a narrative that award ceremonies, in particular, should move away from.

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