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Grammys Drop Anonymous Nominating Committees After Backlash

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The Grammy Awards governing body on Friday voted to change its nomination process, removing a step that had recently come under fire – using anonymous panels of experts to decide who will make the final vote across dozens of categories.

Each year, the Recording Academy gathers music professionals to serve on its nomination review boards for 61 of the 84 categories of the Grammys. They reduce the initial nomination decisions of the Academy’s thousands of voters to determine the vote, and their work is designed to protect the integrity of the award process.

The committees began in 1989 but have been heavily criticized in recent years by artists, music managers, and even Grammy insiders as examples of an unaccountable system with conflicts of interest and mysterious agendas.

Ahead of this year’s Grammys in March, pop star The Weeknd, who was banned from nominations despite the success of his latest album, After Hours, announced that he would be boycotting the show from now on and focused on his guilt for 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 from musicians, especially black artists in genres like hip-hop and R&B, many of whom have received repeated praise in genre categories but have been blocked on the four most prestigious awards: album, record and song of the year and best new artist. The most outspoken included Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean.

In a statement to The Times early Monday, the Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, welcomed the academy’s move but said it would not lift its boycott.

“Even if I won’t submit my music, the Grammys’ recent admission of corruption will hopefully be a positive step forward for the future of this troubled award and give the artist community the respect it deserves with a transparent voting process,” the Weeknd said.

At this year’s ceremony, Beyoncé became the most distinguished woman in Grammy history with 28 wins. Of her entire career, however, there was only one award in one main category when she took home a song of the year in 2010 as one of the recognized songwriters of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”.

In a statement, Harvey Mason Jr., interim executive director of the Recording Academy, praised the Academy Board’s decision as part of a “year of unprecedented transformational change” at the institution.

“This is a new academy that is motivated to act and that has doubled in size to meet the needs of the music community,” added Mason. The proposal was discussed for over a year and included a special committee of academy members and directors, the organization said.

The functioning of the nomination committees has long been the subject of intrigue in the music industry. According to the academy, the identity of the committee members is kept secret in order to protect these people from external influences and fan attacks.

However, the process came under particularly scrutiny last year when Deborah Dugan, the former director of the academy, made a number of detailed allegations as part of a legal complaint about her fall from the organization.

According to her complaint, many members of the committees had conflicts of interest. In one example she gave, an artist running 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 introduced a rule that musicians on the committees must sign disclosure forms to avoid conflicts.

The decision to shorten the committees was made at a meeting of the Academy’s Board of Trustees. Although deleted for the four main prizes and all genre categories, the judging panels remain for 11 so-called craft categories, which cover awards for production, packaging, album notes and historical recordings.

The board also decided to reduce the number of genre award categories that Academy members can vote on from 15 to 10 and added two awards: Best Global Music Performance and Best Música Urbana Album, a Latin American category.

The changes will take effect with the 64th Annual Grammy Awards, held on January 31, 2022 and covering music released in a 13-month window from September 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021.

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Robert Dunfee