After a year in which The Weeknd’s boycott of the Grammys prompted the Recording Academy to abolish its anonymous nominating committees and revamp its voting practices and membership, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. believes that progress within the organization is “trending in the right direction.”
And he believes the just-announced nominations reflect the changes the board has made — despite nominations for figures like Marilyn Manson and Louis CK who have faced very public accusations of misconduct in recent years. Mason pointed to the surprise of Jon Batiste leading all nominees by crossing over numerous categories and seven different fields, not to mention some highlights in diversity in age, gender, race and genre across the board.
“We’ve done a lot of important work, but I acknowledge there’s a lot more to do. My job is far from over,” Mason Jr. told TheWrap in a call ahead of the Grammy nominations on Tuesday. “We are working extremely hard to make sure that we’re continuing to get better, continuing to listen and learn in our communities, our constituents, and we’re putting in a lot of work to continue the improvement that we’ve started.”
Mason touted some of the progress in a letter shared with Recording Academy members on Tuesday, including the surprise announcement that the “Big Four” categories of Record, Album and Song of the Year and Best New Artist would all expand from 8 to 10 nominees.
In making the sudden rule change, Mason argued that it was important to have a wider pool of nominees for voters to select from as well as “the right thing to do.”
“A lot of times at the Academy that’s what we’ve done in the past, is run these things through processes, talk about it, consider it,” Mason said. “We’ve been able to move a little quicker, we’ve been able to respond to our members in the music community, and I think this is a direct reflection of our efforts by the board and our staff that enables us to listen and react and also to take a position of leadership and do what we think is right and do it in a timely fashion.”
This year, The Recording Academy received a record 21,730 submissions for eligible entries — and required members to re-qualify themselves for membership while expanding the list of new members (with a record 83% acceptance rate). And in the first round of voting, voter turnout was also the highest ever and saw a 17% increase from last year.
Specifically, the Academy launched a get-out-the-vote campaign and retooled its online voting platform to make it easier for people to cast ballots. And with the nominating committees eliminated, the pool of nominees was selected by a simple majority. But the Academy also required that members use a “10-3” ballot rule, meaning they could only vote in 10 categories across three fields.
Mason argued that the new rules provided more opportunities for someone like Batiste to make headway in the general categories as well as genre-specific ones. He also pointed to the diversity in the Best New Artist field, which had artists from indie groups like Glass Animals and Japanese Breakfast, to pop stars like Olivia Rodrigo, Finneas and The Kid Laroi, to rappers Saweetie and Baby Keem to country star Jimmie Allen, to global acts like Arlo Parks and Arooj Aftab.
“Those are experts in a very specific field of music evaluating their peers in areas they have a lot of expertise in,” Mason said. “You’re not just seeing people drift back and forth between different categories because they like a particular name. Oh, I heard that song on a streamer, I’m going to vote for it everywhere it is.”
On the other side of the coin, it’s unclear what it meant for artists like Kacey Musgraves, who made headlines when her label pushed back on her album “star-crossed” not being eligible for the country categories. She did score two nominations for “camera roll” in the country categories but missed out elsewhere.
“People are evaluating music for the music, and I don’t think necessarily now is the time to be pigeonholing artists. I think that’s one of the features of how we’re voting now that I see as a huge benefit,” Mason explained. “I don’t think anyone would want to be boxed in and say, oh you used to make this time of music, this is the only place we’re going to vote for you. That is so passé. This is not the time that we’re in with music. Genres are overlapping, there are blurred lines between what one song is, is it this or is it that. Less and less do we need to be restrictive in terms of where we’re containing these types of music and these genres.”
But as Mason alluded to while presenting the nominations this morning, there are always surprises. Morgan Wallen was snubbed in all categories despite the popularity of his country album, perhaps a victim of the blowback over his use of the n-word. But other figures who have come under fire for personal faults made the cut.
Among the listed names when Kanye West’s album “DONDA” scored a nomination for Album of the Year was Marilyn Manson, who has been accused by numerous women of abuse and sexual assault. Even Louis C.K.’s album was nominated for Best Comedy Album this year.
When asked about Manson in particular, Mason clarified that as a songwriter on the album, he is considered a Grammy nominee, but whether he’s invited to the awards ceremony is a different story and will be decided on later.
“We won’t restrict the people who can submit their material for consideration. We won’t look back at people’s history, we won’t look at their criminal record, we won’t look at anything other than the legality within our rules of is this recording for this work eligible based on date and other criteria. If it is, they can submit for consideration,” Mason said. “What we will control is our stages, our shows, our events, our red carpets. We’ll take a look at anyone who is asking to be a part of that, asking to be in attendance, and we’ll make our decisions at that point. But we’re not going to be in the business of restricting people from submitting their work for our voters to decide on.”
See more from the Grammy nominations for 2022 here.