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Grammys overhaul process for picking nominees for top awards

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — The Grammy Awards have changed its tune and voted to remove its anonymous nomination review committees — groups that determined the contenders for key awards at the coveted music show.

The Recording Academy made the announcement Friday after the board of trustees met and approved the change. The decision came hours after The Associated Press reported that the academy was planning to discuss its nomination review committees and whether it was time to eliminate them.

“It’s been a year of unprecedented, transformational change for the Recording Academy, and I’m immensely proud to be able to continue our journey of growth with these latest updates to our awards process,” Harvey Mason Jr., the academy’s interim president and CEO, said in a statement Friday.

“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. While change and progress are key drivers of our actions, one thing will always remain — the Grammy Award is the only peer-driven and peer-voted recognition in music," he continued. “We are honored to work alongside the music community year-round to further refine and protect the integrity of the awards process.”

The major change comes months after The Weeknd blasted the Grammys and called them “corrupt" after he earned zero nominations for the 2021 show despite having the year's biggest single with “Blinding Lights." Nominees will now be based purely on votes made by the academy's 11,000+ voting members, and the academy said that “more than 90 percent of its members will have gone through the requalification process by the end of this year, ensuring that the voting body is actively engaged in music creation."

For the Grammys’ top four awards — album, song and record of the year, along with best new artist — a nomination review committee of at least 20 music generalists in past years selected the top eight nominees from those voted into the top 20.

The majority of the 80-plus Grammy categories were voted by nomination review committees, which were intended to safeguard a specific genre’s integrity and to serve as additional checks and balances. While nominees for some categories like best pop vocal album and best pop solo performance were based purely on votes, a number of genre categories had nomination review committees. Those included the rap, rock, R&B, country, dance/electronic music, American Roots, Latin, jazz and gospel/Christian music fields. Nomination review committees for those groups consisted of 13 to 17 voting members who selected five nominees from the top 15.

But questions have loomed for years around the nominations process with music industry players calling for more transparency because the selection of finalists happens behind closed doors. Others have claimed that members of key nominating committees promote projects they worked on or projects they favor based on personal relationships.

Last year the academy announced that musicians invited to participate in a nomination review committee would have to agree to the terms of a conflict of interest disclosure form and reveal if they would benefit from an artist’s nomination for that category, whether the ties are financial, familial or creative.

That seemed like a response to former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan, who was fired only months into her job and days before the 2020 Grammys. Dugan had said the awards show was rigged and muddled with conflicts of interest.

Doubts about the Grammys voting process reached greater heights when The Weeknd — who topped the charts with “Blinding Lights" and “Heartless," launched an uber-successful album with “After Hours” and even performed at the Super Bowl — was severely snubbed at this year's show, held last month. The Grammys contrasted most of the other music awards shows, where The Weeknd was a key nominee (he earned 16 Billboard Music Award nominations Thursday), and he vowed to boycott the show.

Change has been a center of conversation at the Grammys for years. The organization has been criticized over the diversity in its top prizes, which rarely go to rap and contemporary R&B stars, including heavyweights like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Drake, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and John Legend. While those acts have won in the rap and R&B categories, when it comes to major prizes such as album, song and record of the year, the winners tend to be in the pop, rock, jazz or country genres. The organization has also been targeted for its lack of female winners in the top categories.

While there is some negativity linked to nomination review committees, some members preferred them so they can protect who is allowed to be part of a specific genre. For instance, the rap field at the Grammys added a nomination review committee three years after Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won three rap Grammys in 2014 over Kendrick Lamar, a decision that was heavily criticized by the music community and public, and even Macklemore himself.

Other changes announced Friday include limiting how many genre categories voters can vote in, which has been reduced from 15 to 10. The academy said that “those 10 categories must be within no more than three (genre) fields.” All voters can vote for the top four awards.

The academy also introduced two new awards, bringing its total to 86: best global music performance and best música urbana album.

The 64th annual Grammy Awards will air live on January 31, 2022. Nominees will be announced later this year, and eligible songs and albums must be released between Sept. 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021.

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