For the first time, the question over whether the Grammy Awards truly represent the best of the year’s music was debated openly, even as the 2020 performers, nominees and winners were on stage.
The question about whether the Grammys are really in touch with contemporary pop music spilled over to the awards night, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Now that the 2020 Grammys are history, the question in everyone’s mind is whether the Recording Academy will acknowledge the accusations and confront the issues head-on in the above-board atmosphere of a Fair Go Casino Bonus.
The controversy began last August when Deborah Dugan was named chief executive of the Recording Academy. The Academy oversees the Grammy Awards. Dugan’s job was to rebuild an Academy which had been heading downhill due to lack of interest on the part of many big-name, contemporary stars, a poor record on diversity, perceived disrespect for women and minorities and accusations that the Academy wasn’t in touch with contemporary pop music.
Dugan started to identify issues immediately – there were, she said, huge payments to lawyers, conflicts of interest among board members, voting irregularities in the nominating process and the possibility that the previous chief executive, Neil Portnow, would be given a hefty bonus even after he was asked to leave following a rape allegation.
Dugan filed a memo last month detailing her concerns that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy” but 10 days before the Grammy ceremony, she was put on leave due, the Academy said, to accusations by an administrative assistant who said that Dugan had bullied her. Dugan has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In her claim, Dugan said that the biggest awards tend to go to rock, country, and pop artists. Artists such as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Kayne West and Frank Ocean were snubbed. In outlining how the Grammy voting process is allegedly tainted, Dugan explained that submissions for awards are voted on by the members of the Academy. After that, to narrow down the list to the final five to eight nominees in each category, the top 20 entries are reviewed by smaller committees.
Dugan says that the board uses the committees to promote artists with whom they have relationships. They “manipulate the nominations process” so that songs that Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich wants performed during the ceremony receive nominations. (Ehrlich, who has been executive producer of the Grammys for 40 years, is stepping down at the end of the 2020 Grammys broadcast). The board has even given nominations to submissions that weren’t in the top 20 list at all and that happened with 30 nominees in 2020.
Dugan detailed what happened when proposals regarding the need for a more inclusive approach to the Grammy Awards were presented by Tina Tchen, the former chief of staff for Michelle Obama and head of the Grammy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. One board member said to Dugan, “this is bullshit.”
Although the 2020 Grammys were, by any standards, a good show, the question that’s on everyone’s mind is, can the Academy be trusted? Many people say that Dugan did nothing but confirm what everyone has been saying for years. The awards show has been criticized for quite some time, often by big names in the industry. Many people say that the Grammy’s aren’t keeping up with the way that pop music has evolved, especially when it comes to recognizing the impact that black artists have had on modern pop music.
Over the last 10 years hip-hop and its influence have been dominant yet in that time, Bruno Mars was the only nonwhite artist to win a Grammy for album of the year. In the song and record of the year categories, the results are similar. Critics say that the academy’s resistance feels prejudiced and willful.
A number of contemporary artists are expressing their displeasure with the way that the Academy is relating to their work. Frank Ocean declined to submit his album “Blonde” for Grammy consideration in 2016. He told the New York Times that the Grammy process “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.”
Kanye West, a 21-time Grammy winner who has never won in a major category has spoken openly about his frustration with the Academy and Drake, who won last year in the rap category, diminished the importance of winning awards during his acceptance speech.
Other artists who have clashed with the upper echelons at the Grammys include Lorde and Ariana Grande. Well-regarded musicians have taken umbrage publically at the fact that, they say, female and nonwhite artists are marginalized by the Academy. Such non-male/non-white musicians are recognized in the genre categories but have little representation in the major categories of song, record of the year, best new artist and album of the year.
For all the controversy, the Grammys remain the most respected and meaningful of the music-industry awards shows. the MTV Video Music Awards celebrate artists who are connected to MTV and Billboard Music Awards are given based on sales. The American Music Awards are based on fan votes.
A lot of the frustration with the Grammys lies with what happens behind the scenes. Grammy nominations are shaped by a number of committees and the composition of those committees is secret. The committees can cherry-pick nominees and enjoy effective override power. Dugan alleges that the system can be scammed by people with the right connections, though Grammys spokespeople deny her allegations.
Recently, the Recording Academy made an aggressive push to invite younger artists to become Grammy voters but in general, Grammy voters are male, white and over 50. They don’t understand or appreciate the young musicians who are pushing pop into the future. Critics say that it’s simply impossible to honor the music of the present via the judgment of yesteryear’s creators. After several years of this type of misrepresentation, a climate of mistrust has been built up.
It remains to be seen what will happen to Dugan’s complaint. Is the Academy more interested in protecting the reputations and interests of its older members than in promoting the younger generation? The steps that the Grammy’s take in the coming months will be telling.
In an interview on Good Morning America Duggan was asked if the public should view the Grammys as a rigged awards ceremony. Dugan responded, “the system should be transparent and there are instances of conflicts of interest that has tainted the results.”
The Recording Academy has denied the rigging accusations. In a statement to the press, the Academy said, “spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong. This process is strictly enforced with everyone involved and has no exceptions.”