Skip to main content
critic’s notebook

The Weeknd appears on stage to accept an award at the American Music Awards on Nov. 22, 2020 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press

The Recording Academy is making enemies of the wrong Canadians, and no one is exactly sure why.

In 2019, Drake surprisingly showed up to accept the Grammy for the best rap song, God’s Plan. Hurt by perceived award snubs of the past, the hip-hop superstar politely but pointedly struck back with his acceptance speech.

“You’ve already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown,” he said, dismissing the significance of the gold statuette he held in his hand. The speech was cut short, but the point was made. What he was telling the L.A.-based trophy givers was that the relevance of the artists outweighed theirs.

When the 2021 Grammy nominations were announced in November, the big shock was the absence of any nominations for the Weeknd, the enigmatic R&B maestro whose single Blinding Lights, holds the record for most weeks spent in the top 5 and top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 after its November, 2019, release.

“The Grammys remain corrupt,” Weeknd wrote on Twitter. “You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.”

Interim Recording Academy president Harvey Mason Jr. responded to the controversy, saying that while they “empathized” with the crooner’s disappointment, some “deserving” acts miss out every year.

In another Twitter missive, the Weeknd said he and the academy had been “collaboratively planning” a Grammy performance for weeks, but that he now interpreted the zero nominations as him being uninvited to the televised gala.

I’m not sure I buy that. The Weeknd had already signed on to perform at the Super Bowl LV halftime show in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7. The Grammys were originally scheduled for Jan. 31 (before being postponed to March 14 because of health and safety concerns). It’s hard to believe the National Football League would be okay with the Weeknd performing on national television one week before its own big show. They’d want some exclusivity.

So, once he got the Super Bowl gig, whatever the Weeknd was cooking up with the Grammys, it wasn’t going to be a performance. He picked football over the award festival, and he picked right.

While some 16 million Americans watched the 2020 Grammys, the audience for last year’s Super Bowl topped 100 million. That’s a lot of eyes. That’s a lot of ears. That’s a lot of nachos.

Well before kickoff, the Weeknd is already reaping the benefits of his NFL affiliation. He currently stars in a Pepsi Super Bowl commercial set to Blinding Lights, with security guards, grocery store stockers, pool cleaners and other late-night workers bopping along to last year’s biggest song.

Do these everyday people care why Grammy snubbed the Weeknd? They do not. They drink Pepsi, watch football, sing his song word for word, and, for some odd reason, clean swimming pools nocturnally.

The shocked security guard smiles when he recognizes the pop star. That’s what the Weeknd cares about – being recognized. The Super Bowl builds his brand, and if he moves a few copies of his new compilation album The Highlights (out Feb. 5), all the better.

Drake was right about the Grammys. The television audience has been dropping for years, the relevance of “music’s biggest night” along with it. Accusations of racial bias in the award-giving have been well publicized. Lack of female representation has been glaring.

Responding to the “Grammys so male” criticism in 2018, then Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said that women need to “step up.” Portnow resigned in 2019; any stepping up by female artists now is done by walking over him.

Last year, former Academy chief executive officer Deborah Dugan filed a discrimination lawsuit against her old employer, alleging voting corruption, sexual misconduct and gender discrimination, while citing a general “boy’s club” environment.

The Grammy franchise is floundering. The Weeknd is on the right team. The Super Bowl commercial ends with the Weeknd grinning wide – something like a last laugh.

Sign up for The Globe’s arts and lifestyle newsletters for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.