In February, not long after the 2018 Grammys, the Recording Academy announced it would launch a task force to increase diversity in its antiquated institution. The means to which they would accomplish this necessary and long overdue goal were unclear—we now know it required the hiring of Tina Tchen (previously Chief of Staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama) and, perhaps indirectly, the impending retirement of Neil Portnow, the Recording Academy chief who said “women need to step up.”
As Billboard reports, Tchen’s task force has just taken a seemingly large step in implementing change: the Recording Academy has invited 900 “music creators” to become voting members, all of which are “female and/or people of color and/or under 39.”
The 900 are described as “a broad range of music creators, including vocalists, songwriters, instrumentalists, producers and engineers.” It is unclear who these invitees are and how many of them will accept the request.
Still, Billboard reports that the task force has made some immediate changes: the 16 different Nominations Review Committees, which “determine the final Grammy nominations in craft and other specialized categories” are composed of 51 percent women and 48 percent people of color, up from 2017's metrics (28 percent women and 37 percent people of color). The eight different National Governance Committees—which “oversee such areas as membership and advocacy”—have also seen a shift: 48 percent women and 38 percent people of color compared to 2017 when it was 20 percent female and 30 percent people of color. The lack of age information feels particularly telling.
My question is this: do we trust that these changes have actually happened to the degree in which they are described? It seems unlikely, like my colleague Hazel Cills has written before, that any real progress can happen without transparency of the voting committee members’ gender, race, and age. It feels a bit like we’re supposed to take their word for it, and historically, that hasn’t been anything to write home about. Maybe that’s cynicism, or maybe they haven’t give us much reason to be confident.