Grammy Chief Harvey Mason Jr. Talks New Songwriter of the Year Award, Social Change and More

·5-min read

Thursday morning’s announcement of several new Grammy Awards, particularly the long-overdue Songwriter of the Year honor, has already gotten a strong response from the music community. It also reflects an Academy that has been increasingly and more immediately responsive to calls from the community — while the Songwriter of the Year has been a glaring and baffling omission in the half-century-plus since the Grammys began, calls for it have increased in recent years. Although the same could be said of the new Special Merit Awards recognizing a song that advances social change — and recent socially relevant songs by Childish Gambino and H.E.R. have won Song of the Year — there’s no question that this alarming time in our nation’s history has made a greater call for that kind of recognition, and it is a welcome one.

Variety caught up with Mason about the changes on Wednesday.

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The Academy seems to be responding to calls for change from the music community much faster than in the past. Is there anything you can attribute that to?

Well, I think it’s the culture and ethos that we’re trying to operate under, and I think it’s stemming from the speed at which music moves, and our industry moves. I felt that in the past could have done a better job of not always being so reactive, but trying to think ahead and trying to plan for what’s coming next, although knowing how fast things move, that sometimes can be very difficult. So our board has been very conscientious about having additional meetings so things can be addressed in a timely manner. Our staff has done an amazing job to coordinate with the board to be able to address things in real time, rather than waiting for a year or two years. I attribute that to the staff, to the board, and the collaboration that’s happening.

Do you have any thoughts as to why there wasn’t a Songwriter of the Year award before?

I don’t know why there wasn’t one, I’m just glad that there is now — I’m a songwriter myself. They deserve to be recognized the same as producers and artists and engineers and other people that are working in the field.

Was there any larger reason behind the new Best Performance categories in Americana and alternative?

I think the stakeholders from those genres felt that they needed more opportunity to showcase the performances. As you know, our process comes from our members and from the constituents, and if they feel that there’s something that they’d like to change, or add or take away, then it comes with the proposal, and that proposal was resonating with the board members, so the proposals were approved. That’s the cool thing about the Academy — it’s not any one of us deciding. It’s really about our members and about our music community deciding what they feel is best.

On that note, was there much conversation about having more hip-hop awards?

I don’t remember specifically if there were any proposals, but there’s always conversation around pretty much every genre. We have our genre-based people internally and we’re always discussing with them: How are we looking in those categories? Do we feel like we’ve got the right balance? The right nomenclature? Are we dealing with the with the genres accurately? We have conversations around hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock and others making sure those categories are our up to date and relevant.

Was the social change award something that’s been talked about often since you’ve been with the Academy? 2020 certainly seems to have given even more reason for an award like that.

I don’t remember us ever having talked about having that type of award, but we’ve always been turning to songs in times of hardship and we’ve always used music to help us heal. I think it’s very timely — we’ve been seeing the power of music in the last few years, it’s been critical in playing that role. So it’s cool that we’re going to honor it going forward.

Do you feel like it might undercut the chances for those songs winning Song of the Year?

You know, I hope not. I don’t think it will, because it’s a Special Merit award so it’s not like it’s going to to add an additional Grammy award to a song, like, “Oh, I don’t want to give that song a Grammy because it’s going to get [the social change award]. I hope that people would listen to the song on its merits, as far as evaluating it for Song or Record of the Year, and then the Special Merit award would be very specific.

With the album eligibility going from 50% to 75% new material, is that largely a result of bonus editions of albums stretching out their eligibility by adding a few B-sides?

I think that’s some of it, yeah. But I think it’s a good change and will balance things out, and make sure that we’re protecting against people releasing the same material multiple years, trying to get a longer runway for the for the for their music.

Is there anything more you’d like to say, with regard to these to these changesand anything else that came out of the recent board meetings?

We’ve spent so much time in the board meetings dealing with the proposals, which I think is a result of the Academy trying to be much more nimble. It was a pretty high number of proposals, which kind of shows and reflects our intention of making sure we’re listening, making sure our members have the opportunity to really have a hand in and dictate where we as an Academy go. So we’re going to continue going forward to make sure that we’re looking into what’s happening and what what needs to change. And I think this is another great step forward.

 

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