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Recording Academy in midst of paradigm shift - Industry players demand more contemporary voters, transparency

Published:Thursday | February 8, 2018 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley
Sting (left) and Shaggy.

There is an ongoing debate about the relevance of the Grammy awards, particularly in respect of its representation of ethnic music genres.

In an article published in Billboard magazine, written by Gail Mitchell, it was revealed through anonymous sources that the Recording Academy's board of trustees is finalising more ways to improve the voting member pool, which determines the outcome of the annual Grammy Awards.

It is a generally accepted idea that the voting members skew their votes towards the older and white demographic, though such data is not disclosed by the academy. In the opinion of one artiste and repertoire representative, "At the end of the day, is that old white guy going to vote for Lamar or Mars? That's the question."

R&B star Frank Ocean declined to submit his most recent, highly anticipated releases for consideration. Famed rapper Kanye West has highlighted his wins in genre categories but not in 'all-genre categories'. Industry-driving talents like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, the Weeknd, and Ed Sheeran were no-shows this year, indicating an alienation of a generation.

Recent changes point to an apparent paradigm shift in the academy's approach to awarding success in the music publishing industry.

In Mitchell's article, it is argued that hip hop was shut out from potentially snagging a top multigenre category like Album of the Year, rationalising efforts to build a more diverse voting membership. Where the question of inclusivity hovers over the reported consistent snubs of hip hop and rap artistes, other ethnically placed genres also fall by the wayside. Despite having a globally impacting reputation, the award for the Best Reggae Grammy Album (one category among a total of 83) is awarded before the actual ceremony begins.




The Sunday Gleaner asked the most recent Best Reggae Album Grammy winner, Damian Marley, if he, too, would want reggae musicians to receive their awards alongside other popular music artistes, and his response: "Of course!"

"As a reggae musician, I would love that, but I understand why it isn't. We have to face the reality of limited time and them trying to represent what they think are the most popular, in terms of an American audience," Jr Gong said.

"But I use it as a motivation to be worthy of being issued an award on stage," he continued.

One such change to the operational practices of the Recording Academy is that requalification rules have been established whereby voters must show their current credits within the last five years for eligibility to establish a pool of contemporary producing members of the music industry. This year, the Academy also launched online voting to better engage its 13,000 voting members.

While some applauded the increased diversity in this year's Grammy telecast, one major-label's urban promotion vice-president said that the committee "got the nominations right, but the voters didn't deliver on who the winners should have been. People got robbed".

Following this year's ceremony, Jon Caramanica of the New York Times wrote, "Voting patterns remain problematic even though the nominations in the main categories this year were more diverse than in previous years. But the music industry is undergoing changes unlike any others in its history, and the Grammys, as an awards platform, have failed to keep up. It's an unimaginative, risk-averse awards show, masquerading as an unimaginative, risk-averse concert."

Mitchell reported one major-label's urban promotion vice-president as saying: "The academy needs to cast a broader net for qualified voters. People need to see and understand how the process works. There's still a big disconnect between the music community, the voting members, and the millions of people who watch the show. It's a very commercial show, driven by a very private process. That's tricky because then, the winners don't look like what people were expecting."