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Macklemore Made His Private Apology Public 10 Years Ago and the Grammys Haven’t Been the Same

It’s almost ironic that one of the most pivotal award presentations in Grammy Awards history didn’t even happen on the main stage.

“You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you,” Macklemore texted Kendrick Lamar, who was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards. Drake, Jay-Z, and Kanye West were also nominated, but newcomers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were victorious with their debut album The Heist. The rapper sent the text a few minutes after the main show ended, about five hours after they won during the pre-show, which streamed online but was not televised. 

The Recording Academy has never been known for making much space for hip-hop artists. The first-ever rap category at the Grammys, Best Rap Performance, was created 35 years ago. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, the first artists to win the award, famously skipped the 1989 ceremony altogether when they discovered the category would not be televised. Their boycott demanded that the art form be taken seriously across the board. And it worked. At least one rap award was presented during the main ceremony every year from 1990 until 2015.

There had been snubs and surprises across categories throughout the show’s history, but more often than not fans and critics were the ones debating about who deserved what. Macklemore’s earnest admittance that the Recording Academy made the wrong choice suggested that the musicians that listeners were rooting for were having those same conversations. Artists might not see winning a Grammy Award as the ultimate goal of their career — and statistically speaking, most will never be nominated — but most wouldn’t think to denounce the opportunity. A decade ago, that level of transparency around the most coveted award in music was unusual. Now, it’s almost expected.

“I was gonna say that during the speech,” Macklemore continued in the message, which he screenshot and posted to Instagram. “Then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music.” In the caption of his post, Macklemore elaborated, sharing that while he was honored to have won four awards that night — including two rap trophies for “Thrift Shop” — he knew they didn’t make a better rap album than Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. “And that’s taking nothing away from The Heist,” he added. “Just giving GKMC its proper respect.”

Macklemore and Lewis did take the stage at the main show, both to perform and to accept the award for Best New Artist. They had one minute to deliver their speech before the cutoff music began. Macklemore thanked his family, their team, and their fans, while Lewis threw up a peace sign without getting any time on the mic. That same night, Lewis posted a photo of his sister and her partner, one of the 34 couples married by Queen Latifah during their performance of “Same Love.”

A few weeks after the ceremony, Drake told Rolling Stone: “That shit was wack as fuck. I was like, ‘You won. Why are you posting your text messages? Just chill. Take your W, and if you feel you didn’t deserve it, go get better – make better music.’ It felt cheap. It didn’t feel genuine. Why do that? Why feel guilt? You think those guys would pay homage to you if they won? … [And] to just name Kendrick? That shit made me feel funny. No, in that case, you robbed everybody. We all need text messages!”

Reflecting on that moment in 2021, Macklemore told Talib Kweli, the text “obviously shouldn’t have been put on the internet.” But in recent years, other artists have found themselves in similarly conflicting positions — torn between their artistry, personal fandom, and privilege. At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Beck was awarded Album of the Year for Morning Phase, beating out Beyoncé’s industry-shaking album Beyoncé. When he looked back on the achievement — which was briefly interrupted by Kanye West’s faux-recreation of his infamous VMAs stage-storming — he admitted that he was almost certain she was going to win. 

“I wrote her a long note after the Grammys, too,” Beck revealed to Billboard in 2017. “Because I saw a bit of that on the internet, where they pit two musicians against each other. The idea of being on one side versus another in music is just preposterous to me.” Their correspondence was kept private, with no screenshots making their way to social media. But in recent years, artists hoping to give flowers to their peers at the Grammy Awards have almost exclusively done so on stage at the main show.  

“I can’t possibly accept this award,” Adele said at the 2017 Grammy Awards when 25 was awarded Album of the Year over Beyoncé’s Lemonade. “I’m very humbled and very grateful and gracious but my artist of my life is Beyoncé.” A few years later, when an 18-year-old Billie Eilish made a history-making debut at the 2020 Grammy Awards, the accomplishment also came with an apology. “So many other songs deserve this, I’m sorry,” she said when accepting the award for Song of the Year, beating out Lizzo, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, and more. “This is my first Grammys. I never ever thought this would happen in my whole life.”

When it was time to announce the winner for Album of the Year, Eilish could be seen in the audience mouthing: “Please don’t be me.” But, of course, it was. “Please sit down. Can I just say that I think Ariana [Grande] deserves this,” she said during her acceptance. “Thank U, Next got me through some shit, and I think it deserves this more than anything in the world.” Grande waved off the praise. Eilish had a remarkable breakthrough year, but as she settled into the pop arena, she found it hard to embrace the accolades that came with her stardom. 

In 2021, Eilish was awarded Record of the Year for “Everything I Wanted,” a one-off single that was never attached to an album. Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, and more were also nominated. “This is really embarrassing for me,” Eilish said at the start of her acceptance speech. “Megan, girl — I was gonna write a speech about how you deserve this, but then I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re gonna choose me.’ I was like, ‘It’s hers.’ You deserve this. You had a year that I think is un-top-able. You are a queen, I wanna cry thinking about how much I love you … You deserve it, honestly, genuinely. Can we just cheer for Megan Thee Stallion?”

Some argued that the then-19-year-old should have stepped off the stage and handed her award to the Houston rapper if she really believed she deserved it more. It felt like a tipping point for years of artists vocalizing to their audience that they felt undeserving of their accomplishments. In the same way that Drake was annoyed with Macklemore’s perceived virtue signaling in posting his text to Kendrick, Adele and Eilish were criticized for not putting actions to their words.

But then last year, when Harry Styles was awarded Album of the Year for Harry’s House over Beyoncé’s Renaissance, he was criticized for not being apologetic about the achievement in light of the Recording Academy’s failure to properly celebrate Beyoncé’s artistry. Then, on top of that, Adele was criticized for not being enthusiastic enough about Styles’ win.

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The internalized and systemic biases that have long plagued the Grammy Awards aren’t anything Adele, Styles, Eilish, or anyone else being showered in trophies could change during a one-minute speech. At the Grammys, celebration and criticism aren’t mutually exclusive. There’s a way for musicians to champion their peers while still holding the institution accountable for what they perceive as missteps. 

Frank Ocean — who doesn’t submit his music for consideration anymore — took aim at the Recording Academy itself in 2017, annoyed about Kendrick Lamar losing out to Taylor Swift for Album of the Year in 2016, among other things. “Use the old gramophone to actually listen bro,” he wrote in a Tumblr post. “And if you’re up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from then I’m all for it.”

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