UPDATED: In the wake of the not-entirely-unexpected news that Kanye West has been barred from performing at the Grammy Awards due to his “concerning online behavior,” he has not been barred from attending the show, sources tell Variety.
That means West — who is up for five awards around his “Donda” album, including the top prize of Album of the Year — can walk the red carpet, attend and accept awards at both the Premiere ceremony (the livestreamed event before the main show where non-televised awards are given out) and the main show itself.
It’s also possible that he could hold a competing event that would draw viewers away from the Grammys — a spiteful if not out-of-character move that arguably would harm the many fellow artists performing on the show more than the show itself. In fact, unconfirmed rumors state that he is planning just such an event with Drake, another artist with a rocky Grammy history, although a rep for Drake denied that claim (a rep for West did not respond to requests for comment).
While it is unclear how far conversations about a West Grammy performance had progressed — in fact, incomplete performance plans, just two weeks before the show, could have been a contributing factor to the decision — a quick look at his recent social media posts, videos and concert performances give ample reasons for why a performance on live network television would be prohibitively problematic, despite the ratings it would draw.
Recent weeks have included a racial slur directed at Grammy host Trevor Noah in response to comments Noah made on “The Daily Show” about West’s public behavior toward his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian; repeated public support for accused sex offender Marilyn Manson and unrepentant homophobe DaBaby; and vague threats against Kardashian’s new boyfriend, Pete Davidson. There are also his past misguided comments about slavery and Harriet Tubman; his polarizing support for former President Trump and his own stated plan to run for president in 2024. (Reps for the Recording Academy, CBS and Noah all declined requests for comment on the issue, although Noah wrote a lengthy and conciliatory Instagram post about West’s slur, which he has since deleted.)
Ironically, sources tell Variety that West was one of the many artists that Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and other Grammy execs have reached out to in recent months as part of a wide-ranging campaign to grow the organization’s diversity and relevance, especially in light of the ugly allegations about a “boys’ club” and insider dealings that arose after former CEO Deborah Dugan’s abrupt dismissal just before the 2020 awards, and after the Weeknd was shockingly excluded from all 2021 nominations. (Dugan and the Academy settled their lawsuit last year; the Academy quickly eliminated the “secret” nominating committees that were presumably responsible for the Weeknd’s exclusion.) While some commenters, most notably rapper/ West collaborator the Game, have attempted to attach a racial narrative to the Grammys’ decision, there are multiple more-tangible reasons why his performance would be called off.
It is also worth noting that Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. has said he argued successfully to expand the number of Album of the Year nominees from eight to 10, beginning with the 2022 awards, because hip-hop was not represented — and the beneficiary of that decision was West’s “Donda” album.
So what happens next? If West does attend the show and walk the red carpet, the Grammys would be under no obligation to broadcast his comments on a livestream or a pre-show, even though other outlets doubtless would. And if he wins awards at the Premiere ceremony (which is livestreamed on grammy.com) or even during the main show, producers presumably would hit the mute button and even cut to a commercial the moment his comments began veering into troubled waters.
While none of those are foolproof solutions — what if he walks the red carpet carrying a fake decapitated Pete Davidson head? — they’re easier scenarios to control.
The situation seems certain to evolve further in the 13 days before the Grammy Awards. One thing’s for sure — we and millions of others will be watching.