Grammys Drop Anonymous Nominating Committees After Backlash
The governing body of the Grammy Awards voted on Friday to change its nominating process, eliminating a step that has recently come under fire — the use of anonymous expert committees to decide who makes the final ballot in dozens of categories.
Each year, the Recording Academy convenes music professionals to serve on its nomination review committees for 61 of the Grammys’ 84 categories. They whittle down the initial nomination choices by the academy’s thousands of voters to determine the ballot, and their work is intended to protect the integrity of the awards process.
The committees began in 1989, but in recent years they have come under intense criticism from artists, music executives and even Grammy insiders as examples of an unaccountable system rife with conflicts of interest and mysterious agendas.
Before this year’s Grammys, in March, the pop star the Weeknd — who had been shut out of the nominations despite the success of his latest album, “After Hours” — announced that he would be boycotting the show from now on, and focused his blame on the nomination process.
“Because of the secret committees,” the Weeknd told The New York Times, “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”
The Weeknd’s rebuke came after years of complaints by musicians, particularly Black artists in genres like hip-hop and R&B, many of whom have been lauded repeatedly in genre categories but blocked in the four most prestigious awards: album, record and song of the year, and best new artist. Among the most outspoken have been Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West and Frank Ocean.
At this year’s ceremony, Beyoncé became the most-awarded woman in Grammy history, with 28 wins. But of her career total, only one prize was in a major category, when she took home a song of the year trophy in 2010 as one of the credited songwriters on “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”
In a statement, Harvey Mason Jr., the interim chief executive of the Recording Academy, praised the decision by the academy’s board as part of “a year of unprecedented, transformational change” at the institution.
“This is a new academy, one that is driven to action and that has doubled down on the commitment to meeting the needs of the music community,” Mason added. The proposal was discussed for over a year, and involved a special committee of academy members and leaders, the organization said.
The workings of the nomination committees have long been a subject of intrigue in the music industry. The identities of the committee members are kept secret to protect those people from outside influence and fan attacks, according to the academy.
But the process came under particular scrutiny last year, when Deborah Dugan, the academy’s former chief, made a number of detailed accusations as part of a legal complaint over her ouster from the organization.
According to her complaint, many people on the committees had conflicts of interest. In one example she gave, one artist who was up for the song of the year category was allowed to sit on the committee for that category, and was also represented by a board member.
Last year, the academy instituted a rule that musicians on the committees must sign disclosure forms to prevent conflicts.
The decision to cut the committees was made during a meeting of the academy’s board of trustees. Although they are being eliminated for the four top prizes and all genre categories, review panels will remain for 11 so-called craft categories, which cover awards for production, packaging, album notes and historical recordings.
The board also decided to reduce to 10 from 15 the number of genre award categories the academy members may vote on, beyond the top four prizes, and added two awards: best global music performance and best música urbana album, a Latin category.
The changes will take effect with the 64th annual Grammy Awards, to be held on Jan. 31, 2022, which will cover music released during a 13-month window from Sept. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.