Exec Explains His Shot at the Grammys

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Why Steve Stoute put the show on blast with a NYT ad.

It took only 900 words for Steve Stoute to become the talk of the music industry.

The marketing executive, who has connected the likes of McDonald’s and Target with hip-hop culture through his Translation firm, took aim at the Grammy Awards with a full-page ad in the Feb. 20 New York Times calling out the Recording Academy and president Neil Portnow for being out of touch with the mainstream and failing to give awards to such hipper acts as Eminem and Justin Bieber. With ratings hitting a 10-year high for the CBS telecast and reviews generally positive, the ad, which cost Stoute about $40,000, had many in the music biz asking, Why?

“What triggered it was hearing several big, credible artists complaining that [the results] were unfair, or ‘We need to start our own show,’ or, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ ” Stoute tells THR, referring specifically to the album of the year category, which was claimed by Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire. “It wasn’t the win that was the problem,” he says. “It was them performing twice, before and after the winner was announced. That’s when I thought, ‘This is fake.’ ”

Stoute stops short of calling the Grammys fixed, but he insists the show is seriously “flawed.” Among his complaints: a voting system in dire need of an overhaul and a membership that is behind the times. “The photo used for Jay-Z’s record of the year nomination was 15 years old,” he says, clearly annoyed. “It’s from his first album in 1996, Reasonable Doubt, where Jay-Z looks like he’s 12.”

The academy had not responded to Stoute by press time, but some insiders are shrugging off the stunt. “There’s that old joke about the Grammys,” notes Jeff Rabhan, chair of NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music. “They’re a total sham and completely unrepresentative of the modern world, unless I win, in which case it’s the most important award there is.”