The Grammys and their governing body, the Recording Academy, have faced criticism in years past — and with fair reason. As we have noted, the awards have systematically excluded women and artists of color year after year. Even more recently, the abrupt removal of the Academy’s latest president and CEO led to accusations of corrupt behavior by members of the board and sexual misconduct allegations against members of the Academy’s leadership.
The years-long backlash to this toxic culture prompted the Academy to review its complicated voting process, led by a Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion headed by Tina Tchen, a former Obama White House staffer. The task force examined the Academy’s nominating and voting process since March 2018 and issued its findings in December. As a result of this, the Academy agreed to a series of recommendations aimed at diversifying its leadership, membership, and awards, which included efforts to reach 50/50 gender representation between men and women on their awards committees. The Academy also invited more than 1,300 new members to join its ranks last year, with an eye towards diversifying its voting body.
But critics argue that the Academy is still way too opaque about its nomination process, especially when it comes to who makes the final decisions. After committees narrow down that year’s submissions, a handpicked “nominations review committee” whittles the list down even further for the final voting ballot. This committee remains confidential, and some argue that the lack of transparency has made it a source of massive gender disparity over the years — according to the task force, between 2015 to 2017, the nominations review committee was 74% male.
Besides upholding a lack of diversity in the Grammys, the nominations review committee has fallen under scrutiny due to accusations that it is influencing the outcome of the awards. A complaint filed just this month by former Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan against the organization referred to the group as a “secret committee” with allegedly corrupt practices. Dugan claimed that committee members often nominate artists they have personal or business relationships with, or nominate artists for categories that align with live performances during the awards show. Sometimes, artists up for nominations sit on these committees — all a clear conflict of interest.
The scandal surrounding the Grammys’ nominations review committee further underscores many critics’ assertions that the awards are quickly losing relevance — and we see the result of this behind-the-scenes decision-making when massive artists such as BTS are confoundingly snubbed from the awards entirely. Even major stars are taking note after Dugan’s exit and the subsequent fallout. Taylor Swift will reportedly not attend this year’s ceremony, and Sean “Diddy” Combs called the Academy out for repeatedly disrespecting Black artists and genres such as hip-hop.
After years of controversy, will the pressure be enough for the Academy to implement major structural changes? Following this latest scandal, chairman and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said that the Academy will recommit to the task force’s recommendations, including implementing changes to the Grammys voting processes. While the task force suggested a ranked-choice voting system, the Academy did not specify what its plan would look like.
“The Academy will recommit to meeting all 18 of the task force recommendations as outlined in the full report and in a manner that will endure, with the caveat that we will have a deeper exploration, along with the task force into voting processes for the Grammys,” Mason noted in an email sent to all Academy members on Sunday morning.
This year, though, the show will go on. The 62nd annual Grammys Awards will air on CBS on Sunday, January 26 at 8 p.m. ET.