Earlier this month on Jan. 16, Deborah Dugan, the CEO of the Recording Academy, was placed on administrative leave for an incident of alleged misconduct. Following this, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming favoritism and corruption in the Grammy nomination process, as well as emphasizing the Academy’s lack of racial diversity in its awarding.
On the lack of racial diversity, Dugan mentioned the Recording Academy rarely gives artists who make R&B or rap music — such as Beyoncé, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Mariah Carey — the most prestigious awards, like Album of the Year. Dugan also noted that “in the entire history of the Grammys, only 10 black artists have won Album of the Year."
In addition to not awarding black artists the most prestigious awards, the Grammys also constrains black artists by limiting them to categories such as Urban or Rap. After receiving his Grammy for Best Rap Album at this year’s ceremony, artist Tyler, the Creator said, “whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending, they always put it in a Rap or Urban category. I don’t like that Urban word, it’s just a politically correct way to say the N-word to me.”
It is no surprise black artists are underrepresented at the Grammys, considering the complaint also revealed that of the 12,000 committee members who vote on nominations and award decisions, the overwhelming majority of them are white.
Dugan alleged the voting process of the Academy is corrupt, revealing that those on the Nomination Board may have relationships with or represent artists who are up for awards. Additionally, the nomination process is manipulated to ensure that if Ken Ehrlich — the producer of every Grammys telecast since 1980 — wants a song performed, said artist receives a nomination.
The Grammys have faced criticism for snubbing black artists in the past. Most notably, Mariah Carey lost five of her eight nominations in 2006 — along with all her acceptance speeches failing to be televised — Kendrick Lamar lost Album of the Year in 2016 to Taylor Swift and Beyoncé lost in 2015 and 2017 for Album of the Year.
The revelation of corruption within the Grammys highlights the artistry and power of musicians like Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé and Mariah Carey. While these artists are awarded by the Academy to some extent, they receive far more critical acclaim from publications and the general public than recognition from the Grammys. When fans call out their snubs by the Academy, it is easy to disregard the public outrage as blind stan worship — thus downplaying their artistry.
However, this outrage is rightly placed. The voter corruption calls into question both the Recording Academy’s past winners and its legitimacy as an organization. While of course everyone is entitled to their opinion on what they consider the best music released in the year, people look to the Grammys to showcase the cream of the crop. Knowing favoritism and manipulation may take place in the voting process, it is hard for viewers and music lovers alike to place their trust in what is supposed to be a prestigious institution.
At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards this past Sunday, the Recording Academy failed to acknowledge the scandal it was facing, but it also managed to avoid creating a new one. No artists of color were snubbed in the awarding process. Rather, history was made. Billie Eilish became the first woman — and the first artist since 1981 — to win all four major categories — Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. This is a step in the right direction for the Grammys as they lack both racial and gender diversity. Two years ago, then Recording Academy President Neil Portnow told Variety that women in the music industry needed to “step up” to win Grammys — now, the Academy may be able to correct their rather embarrassing course.
Before Sunday’s show, interim Grammy Chief Harvey Mason Jr. released a memo that contained a plan of action to increase diversity at the Grammys. This plan, which is intended to put the Academy at the “frontlines of change,” included starting a task force to investigate the voting process for the Grammys.
It is important the Recording Academy work to better themselves as an institution to ensure the voting process is fair and that black artists and music are properly represented in future shows. Black music is popular music. Artists such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Mariah Carey and many more have consistently set the standard for what is popularized, streamed and played on the radio. While it is admirable the Grammys are working to ensure future black artists are properly awarded, it is too late for simple task forces or steps in the right direction. The Grammys can work to rectify the errors made in the past — but they cannot erase them.