The Biggest Grammy Controversies of the Last Ten Years

1. 2014 – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis win Best Rap Album (and Macklemore sends *that* text message.)

The debate about white rappers in hip-hop was raging long before Iggy Azalea and her supposed ‘blacent’ came along, and there were plenty of people who were up in arms about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis scooping Best Rap Album ahead of Kendrick Lamar. Despite achieving near enough universal critical acclaim and well and truly putting Kendrick on the map, his sophomore record ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ didn’t take home a single award and many thought that it was far more deserving than ‘The Heist.’

Of course, the debate didn’t stop there (when does it ever?) after Macklemore’s very well intentioned but totally misguided apology text to Lamar.


mack kendrick

Whilst the message would have been a nice private gesture, posting it on Instagram was less endearing. Rather than gathering the support that he no doubt anticipated, fans turned on Macklemore labelling the post self-serving – well, Drake called it “wack as f*ck” but the general gist seemed to be self-serving.

2. 2013 – Rihanna appears with Chris Brown four years after Brown assaulted her.

One of the most discussed moments in the music industry during the last ten years is undoubtedly Chris Brown’s assault of then girlfriend Rihanna which occurred on the eve of the Grammys in 2009. The controversy surrounding the issue was reignited in 2013 when the superstars appeared together at the award ceremony – as a couple.


chris brown rihanna

On the track “Nobody’s Business” from Rihanna’s 2012 album ‘Unapologetic’ which featured boyfriend Chris, the couple may have boldly declared that their relationship “ain’t nobody’s bidness” but their appearance together seemed, to some people, disrespectful in the light of what happened the night before their last scheduled Grammy appearance as a duo. Of course, they were right, it wasn’t anyone else’s business, but when has that stopped people from having opinions in the past?

3. 2012 – Nicki Minaj brings the Pope as her date and performs an exorcism during “Roman Holiday.”

There’s no better way to stir up a good dose of controversy than to well and truly piss off the Catholic Church (just ask Madonna) and Minaj decided to take a leaf out of her recent collaborator’s book at the 2012 awards. Bringing a Pope-lookalike on the red carpet and then staging a confessional, exorcist themed performance of ‘Pink Friday: Roman’s Revenge’ cut “Roman Holiday” certainly got people talking.

But not all (read: any) of what was said the next day was particularly positive. People seemed to overlook Nicki’s generally very entertainming performance and focus on the shock value, proving once and for all that not all press is good press. Indeed, Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich recently dismissed Minaj’s performance saying that he was “not proud” of the event. The whole thing seems to have left a black mark against Nicki’s Grammy standing – she’s conspicuously absent from tonight’s list of performers.

4. 2012 – Whitney Houston dies the day before the award ceremony.

Whitney Houston’s passing is probably the biggest tragedy in music since Michael Jackson’s death three years earlier and the Grammys struggled to put together a fitting tribute with just more than 24 hours before the 2012 ceremony.

However with the help of vocal heavy-weight Jennifer Hudson, they managed to pull of a beautiful and moving memorial to the legendary R&B star. Jennifer’s stunning rendition of “I Will Always Love You” struck exactly the right chord – sentimental without being indulgent and vocally impressive without showing off – and felt like the perfect way to recognise the 48 year old’s musical achievement.

5. 2011 – Lady Gaga arrives in an egg (because of course.)

On a far less sombre note, the only thing anyone could talk about the year before Whitney’s untimely death was Lady Gaga and her red carpet look. How on earth would she top the infamous meat dress from 2010’s VMAs, everyone wondered? By coming in an egg. Naturally.


lady gaga egg

Speaking to Ryan Seacrest the following week Gaga claimed:

I was in there for about 72 hours, and it was a very creative experience, and it was time for me to prepare and really think about the meaning of [“Born This Way”] and get prepared for the performance. I really wanted to be born on stage.

And yet that’s still not the most insane thing she’s ever said. The entrance somewhat overshadowed her vocally impressive performance of “Born This Way” but did nothing to damage the song’s popularity as it went on to be the fastest selling single of her career and a Hot 100 number one.

6. 2008 – Kanye West gets snubbed for Album of the Year (again.)

In recent years, Kanye West has made his distain for award shows very clear and maybe it originated from a series of snubs for Album of the Year at the Grammys. Nominated for ‘Graduation’ alongside Amy Winehouse’s huge album ‘Back to Black,’ it seemed a done deal that either Winehouse or West would take home the gramophone. However, the Grammys stayed true to their history of throwing in total curveballs and the academy awarded the prize to Herbie Hancock for his almost universally ignored Joni Mitchell tribute ‘River: The Joni Letters.’


herbie hancock

To add insult to injury, this was the second time Kanye had been snubbed for a nostalgia record after ‘The College Dropout’ was passed over for Ray Charles duets record ‘Genuius Loves Company’ which posthumously won the award in 2005. Whilst Charles’ album was by no means a bad record, it didn’t match up to the critical or commercial success of Kanye’s debut album.

7. 2008 – Kelis and Nas walk the red carpet sporting attire featuring the n-word.

If you thought Jennifer Lopez’ cleavage was the most controversial wardrobe choice on the Grammy red carpet then you were sorely mistaken. Kelis and her then-husband Nas showed up to the 2008 awards with matching outfits emblazoned with the word ‘n****r.’


kelis nas

Designed to create a culture more comfortable with use of the racial slur, the power-couple’s political stance caused a tidal wave of controversy and attention, which was probably a big part of their motivation too. It was actually so controversial that it caused the Grammys to alter their official wardrobe guidelines to include a reminder not to wear clothing with ‘obscene or offensive language.’

8. 2005 – Kanye’s speech after winning Best Rap Album.

To cap us off, let’s have another Kanye moment. I’m just going to leave you with his speech because it’s probably the best Grammy acceptance speech of all time. No, I’m not being shady, it is. Just watch it, yeah?

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Undoubtedly between Meghan Trainor and Iggy Azalea, tonight’s awards will be equally contentious, so stay tuned and BreatheHeavy will bring you all the updates.

Who do YOU think will cause the most controversy tonight?