Beyond The Music: 5 Grammys Controversies That Made Our Jaws Drop

Things changed after these moments.

Music's biggest night — otherwise known as the Grammys — tends to be a fairly conservative affair. Despite the number of hard-partying rockers, hip-hop acts, and good-old country boys that fill out the crowd, the night seems reserved for folks donning tuxedos and ceremonial gowns. And the performances often pair performers of legendary status with fresh, young talent, leading to sales bumps for winners and onstage singers immediately after the show.

There are exceptions, of course, and things don't always go as planned. Here, we count down some of the ceremony's most controversial moments from the stage and behind the scenes.


Will Smith boycotts 1989 ceremony over rap category not being televised.

Will Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, isn't the only member of the family to protest an awards show. Back in 1989, Smith — along with regular Grammy host LL Cool J and trio Salt-N-Pepa — skipped the show over the refusal to televise the then-new Best Rap Performance. Though he — as the Fresh Prince — and musical partner DJ Jazzy Jeff won for "Parents Just Don't Understand," they weren't on hand to collect the award. The next year, though, the Grammys reconsidered, and ever since, rap categories have been featured on TV, further validating the art form.

Milli Vanilli's Best New Artist Grammy is revoked after it's revealed they lip-synched.

Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were the kings of late-'80s/early '90s radio. With their good looks and international success, it surprised few that they went on to win the Best New Artist Grammy in 1990. But their careers went south when it was revealed that they had not sung a single note on their debut album, Girl You Know It's True. Two years after the scandal, they rebranded themselves as Rob & Fab, releasing the single "We Can Get It On" and actually singing their songs, but this time, the public wasn't buying it. Sadly, Pilatus died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1998, but Morvan continues to record and perform music — having not given up on his passion and often paying tribute to his friend. The 1990 Best New Artist, however, never went to any of the other contenders: the Indigo Girls, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, or Tone Lōc.

Eminem and Elton John perform "Stan" at 2001 Grammys.

Eminem came under fire from GLAAD back in 2000 and 2001 over the then-nominated Marshall Mathers LP, which featured "hate-filled lyrics" in the song, "Criminal," according to activists. A protest was planned to keep him from performing or being honored, but perform he did, and with LGBT icon Elton John, no less, who filled in for Dido on Em's classic, "Stan." It didn't stop Eminem from saying controversial things in the future, but for at least a few moments, sexual orientation didn't matter and talent prevailed.

Justin Bieber loses Best New Artist to Esperanza Spalding.

Beliebers were furious when multi-instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding beat the Canadian singer in the coveted Best New Artist category. Not only was she an unknown to many of his fan base, but some of the more extreme protests led to defacing her Wikipedia page with offensive language. But Bieber was a good sport about it, congratulating her shortly after her win when the two ran into each other backstage. It's tough to compare musical genres or accurately measure talent, but the fact that there were no hard feelings shows these two rank high when it comes to maturity.

Macklemore and Madonna host same-sex weddings during 2014 ceremony.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed their nominated song "Same Love" during the 56th annual Grammys ceremony, but they didn't just perform. The duo teamed up with Queen Latifah, who officiated a mass wedding for 33 couples — several of them same-sex couples, along with couples of other varying backgrounds — while songwriter Mary Lambert and the one and only Madonna acted as wedding singers, singing verses from the track as well as Madge's "Open Your Heart." While some complained about the "public display" of same-sex marriage, many audience members and at-home viewers were happy to be a part of the televised festivity and unity.

Cover image: Helga Esteb /


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.