The Recording Academy took to the Internet on Wednesday afternoon to explain its decision to reduce the number of categories to 78 for the 54th annual Grammy Awards. The producer Jimmy Jam traced the decision back to the end of the 50th anniversary celebration when he was chairman of the board of trustees.
"Neil talked during the 50th anniversary year about the next 50 years," Jam said on a live chat webcast on grammy.com that was moderated by Billboard's Gail Mitchell. "After that ended, we got to look at everything. This (change) illuminates that train of thought."
During the chat, Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow, Academy VP of awards Bill Freimuth and Jam addressed a multitude of questions from Mitchell and submissions from fans using social media sites. The focus was largely on the consolidation of male and female vocal categories down to a single performance award in the rock, pop, R&B and country categories.
"Many of the core categories were created 50 years ago," Freimuth said, "and we speculated that the distinction was because females had a much rougher time in the music industry. So they were partially created to give women a leg up in the industry. … It's certainly better than it was so we have erased an artificial (distinction)."
Noting that the four general categories have never been gender specific, Jam said, "I think it's exciting that, let's say Alicia Keys is against Usher. I think that's pretty cool. It's the best of the best of the best, which should make for an exciting show and exciting competition."
Gender designations, Portnow said, "are not necessarily appropriate nor even necessary. A singer is a singer is a singer."
All three said the change will make the award more coveted now that fewer will be handed out, and they still expect the number of submissions to top the 20,000 that came in for the 53rd edition of the music industry awards.
None of the changes stemmed from recent brouhahas over wins by Arcade Fire and Esperanza Spalding nor the ineligibility of Lady Gaga as a new artist, Portnow said.
"I'm very proud that Arcade Fire was the recipient of the album of the year award," Portnow said. "It shows our membership is thoughtful about the music."