Recording Academy Chief Harvey Mason Jr. on 63rd Annual Grammy Nominations: ‘We Really Are Trying to Land on Quality’

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Harvey Mason Jr attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

'We don’t sit down and decide we have to have this person and we have to have that person; we have to have that genre; and we have to have this race."'

Harvey Mason Jr. has been the Recording Academy’s interim president/CEO since January, which means the 63rd annual Grammy nominations, which were announced Tuesday (Nov. 24), are the first under his watch.

He will have pleasant conversations with artists (and their representatives) who did well in the nominations and tense ones with artists (and their reps) who did not. That goes with the job.

Mason took some time on the eve of Nominations Day to talk to Billboard. Check out the Q&A below.

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What’s your take on the nominations?

I thought they were really exciting. They’re representative of all the different areas of music.

12% of the voting members are new this year. What impact do you think that had on the nominations?

We have a very diverse group of new voters—a very relevant group of new voters. I think we’re seeing that in our nominations.

Did the Nominations Review Committee meet on Zoom this year? Did you participate?

It was and I did.

I’ve been told that, for the Big Four categories, the top 20 vote-getters from rank-and-file voting members are presented to the Nominations Review Committee. They’re presented in alphabetical order, so the committee has no way of knowing what was No. 1 or No. 20. Is all of that true?

Absolutely true. You get the list of the top 20 vote-getters from the general voting public. The room listens to every song, every record, every best new artist. The goal there is just to look for quality and try to make sure we’re honoring excellence. We’re not considering popularity or chart position. We’re just listening for quality. It’s an extra step that I think makes the Grammy nominations even more special to those who get them.

This is the fifth time that Beyoncé has led the pack in terms of nominations -- either as the sole nominations leader or tied for the lead. Why do you think the voters and the committee members have had such a high opinion of her for such a long time?

I would have to imagine it’s because of the level of quality and excellence that she has represented throughout her career. In this particular year, she released a body of work that impressed a lot of voters and a lot of people on the committee.

I was shocked that The Weeknd wasn’t nominated at all, and that Harry Styles wasn’t nominated in any of the Big Four categories. Why do you think they weren’t nominated?

For The Weeknd, in every year you only have a certain amount of people you can nominate for each category. As for Harry, he has some great nominations this year [even though he wasn’t nominated in the top categories]. We are excited about some of the other categories where he was nominated. It’s never easy to tell where people are going to land.

There was a day where both of these artists would have been nominated for album, record and song of the year. The Grammys have shifted in terms of what they value. Now they seem to value championing newer and less well-known artists over reinforcing things that have already been rewarded in the marketplace.

[Hesitantly] Yeah, it’s interesting.

The deluxe edition of Black Pumas’ album was nominated for album of the year, even though the regular edition was released and entered (but not nominated) in the last eligibility year. What was the thinking there?

The deluxe edition has a ton of new content. 57% of the playing time is new content, so that made it eligible for this year’s awards.

Country didn’t do well in the nominations in the Big Four categories. Ingrid Andress is nominated for best new artist, but Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Gabby Barrett and Morgan Wallen are all missing in the top categories.

There are a certain amount of nominations that we can give out. The voting body really determines where those nominations go. We take it very seriously. We review every bit of music that is submitted. From year to year, it is really hard to predict who is going to be nominated and who’s not. I personally wish we could give everybody a nomination, but there are only a certain amount of slots. There were some amazing records that did not get nominated.

There doesn’t seem to be a high priority given to making sure country is represented, like there is to making sure the nominations are diverse.

We don’t sit down and decide we have to have this person and we have to have that person; We have to have that genre; and we have to have this race. We really are trying to land on quality. In my experience, it’s not really been about trying to even the playing field for every different group and make sure that everyone’s included. It’s really about trying to highlight quality and excellence. We really hope that is a diverse group; that it represents a lot of genres. I think this year if you look at the overall nominations, we have represented more genres than we generally do in our Big Four categories. They’re very diverse across the board in gender, age and genre.

Where will the Grammys be held and what form will the show take?

It will be in downtown L.A. [We’ve just announced that Trevor Noah will host.] It will include great performances and awards. It will not have 17,000 screaming fans [like we have had at Staples Center], but it’s going to be an event. It’s time for people to come to gather around music and celebrate music.

Does “Downtown L.A.” mean Microsoft Theater [a smaller venue adjacent to Staples Center]?

We haven’t announced an exact location.

Will you have your MusiCares Person of the Year event this year?

I don’t think that’s happening. There might be something different, though.

Will you release your Grammy Nominees CD this year?

No, we will not. It ended up costing us quite a bit of money to do it and it was not selling [in big numbers anymore]. So we thought it was best to stop it.

You say you participated in the Nominations Review Committee. Were you a voting member?

No. I just observed. I have been a voting member in the past [but didn’t think it would be appropriate this year because of my new position]. I really trust our voting body. I really trust the creatives that are in those rooms [on the various nominations review committees] to make good choices. They are experts in the field. I’m supportive of any chance to honor good music.

Did any category stand out for you?

The best rock performance category was incredible. [The nominees are four female solo artists, a female trio, Haim, and a female-led group, Big Thief.] I think it’s real exciting.

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