New Grammy Rules Still Ignore the Actual Problem

Illustration for article titled New Grammy Rules Still Ignore the Actual Problem
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On Wednesday, the Recording Academy announced a list of changes meant to improve the nomination and award show process for the Grammy Awards. These revisions arrive a year-and-a-half after former president and CEO of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan, filed a 44-page document to the EOCC alleging sexism, racism, and harassment within what she called a “boys club” organization—which included an accusation that former CEO Neil Portnow raped a recording artist. She also accused the voting process of corruption.

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A few notable Grammy changes, per Billboard:

  • To be considered for the Best New Artist category in the past, musicians had to have released fewer than 30 songs. That cap has been lifted with the aim to include more hip-hop artists, who typically release more music through mixtapes than other acts in other genres.
  • The Urban Contemporary Album category has become Best Progressive R&B Album.
  • Best Rap/Sung Performance is now Best Melodic Rap Performance.
  • Latin Pop is now Best Latin Pop or Urban Album. The main difference is that all music filed under Latin Urban used to be considered part of the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album category. That has been renamed Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album.
  • In the past, the Grammys rulebook stated that “committee members must disclose conflicts and leave the room and not vote in respective categories.” Now, those people are unable to participate in those specific nominations entirely.
  • Committee members were once instructed to “take one year off after five years of service.” Now they have to take a year off every three years.
  • The official Grammy Awards Rulebook is now posted for the first time ever on Grammy.com. Transparency!
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If it isn’t painfully obvious, most of these gestures read superficially at best. Getting rid of the “urban” title is good, but then why does it still exist for Latin music? And why is the Latin category still divorced from Pop, anyway? Removing the 30-song cap in the Best New Artist category sounds solid, but how is it possible to ensure that a genre-defying black artist will be awarded across categories instead of pigeonholed into those few associated with race?

It seems that by continuing to enforce division across genre lines, the Grammys will continue to reinforce racial divisions that separate performers of color from the most celebrated and coveted awards. Beyond that, these rules don’t seem to explain how the Recording Academy plans on enforcing these regulations or how they plan to address other racial biases. In fact, it’s one thing to say that members with conflicts of interest can’t participate in certain nominations—but how is that imposed? Surely, those members would just opt not to disclose any connections and hope not to be held accountable. If Dugan’s 2019 report proved anything, it’s that it’s easy for powerful music industry professionals to bend and break whichever rules they see fit.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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DISCUSSION

In fact, it’s one thing to say that members with conflicts of interest can’t participate in certain nominations—but how is that imposed?

Presumably if someone didn’t disclose a conflict, and one was later uncovered, the member would be censured, sanctioned, kicked out—i.e., face some kind of internal disciplinary process. But, otherwise, it’s really on people to self-report. Hell, we rely on Federal Judges to recuse themselves as necessary from cases in which they might have conflict—and those people regularly decide life-and-death matters working for the government of the United States. What kind of resources are the Grammys supposed to deploy to vet their members’ lives so deeply that even a scant majority of conflicts would be reliably identified and flagged?