Confessions of a Grammy Voter: Industry Heavyweights Share Their Predictions -- and Gripes
A pair of industry heavyweights share their predictions for -- and a few small grievances with -- music's biggest night.
'It's Not Just About The Music'
R&B and pop songwriter-producer, male, 30s, 17-year Grammy voter
Too White, Too Old, Too Male
"The voting bloc is still too white, too old and too male. I do see a significant difference from [what it was] three or four years ago -- the voters are becoming more diverse in terms of minorities, females and younger ages -- but there's still a long way to go."
'Innocent, Healthy' Lobbying
"Taylor [Swift] made a great album. But when it comes down to actual voting, it's not just about the music. Taylor stands up for causes that matter to artists and songwriters -- and an important part of the Grammys is advocacy. When you show up at events to support what The Recording Academy does, that goes a long way with voters. It's said there's no lobbying or soliciting -- I don't want to call it 'lobbying' -- but there is a kind of 'innocent, healthy' lobbying.
"What always plays on people's minds is the last people who made an impression on them. We all have short attention spans. Let's say in the case of album of the year, Alabama Shakes deserves it. But if Taylor Swift got invited to the Grammy Museum and she showed up and that's my last impression ... when I see those names come across the ballot, I'm going to be thinking about Taylor coming to sing for us live."
The Macklemore Effect
"If Kendrick [Lamar] wins, it would be wrong to say he won because people voted for him out of guilt -- he wins because he made an album of strong material. People shouldn't discredit his ability as an artist, writer and performer."
How I Would Change the Show
"Why is R&B excluded from the main show so much? I feel bad for deserving R&B artists who don't get the exposure. We'll have LL Cool J host, but we can't have R&B in the main show? You borrow R&B legends like Stevie Wonder for duets inserted only as parts in the main show, but you stick the R&B categories in the preshow? I don't get it. Same with gospel. It's sad because there are so many great R&B and gospel artists who need that one break that will bring so much more light to their genres. People say R&B is dying. Well, if it's not getting the proper light, then you're absolutely correct."
What I'd Change About the Rules
"I don't understand how an artist can be considered a 'best new artist' if he or she first came out with a project two years ago. Best new artist consideration should cover whatever music an artist releases in the prior year -- be it a single, EP or album. One project. That's crucial and that's one thing I'm going to fight for."
Sam Smith... Tori Kelly?
"[Capitol's] Tori Kelly has the edge. [Chairman/CEO] Steve Barnett does a great job hosting and attending the right events to position his artists for victory opportunities -- like Sam Smith last year. But I wouldn't count out Meghan Trainor: [Epic Records CEO Antonio] "L.A." Reid needs one of these trophies on his watch again -- and I'm sure he has done some significant lobbying. But I'm also thinking that Tori and Meghan will cancel each other out and James Bay could win."
Ed Sheeran's Blackstreet Melody
"I like all the record of the year nominations, but I would give it to Ed Sheeran. Last year, I thought he should have won something. I like his songwriting, but I particularly like 'Thinking Out Loud' because the melody reminds me of 'No Diggity.' "
'I Voted For Kendrick'
Artist manager, male, 50s, 15-year Grammy voter
I Want the Grammys to Be Great
"I help organize a dinner at the Grammys for younger people in the industry, because I want the Grammys to be great. I invite successful people under 50, and particularly people in the rock world, because rock is very under-represented in the Grammys. There are probably more jazz voters than rock voters. And that's because the younger part of the rock business doesn't care as much as they should about the Grammys. They sometimes don't think it's their award.
And here's why: The part of the music business that complains about streaming? It's all old people! Diplo or Kygo or Skrillex? They're not complaining about Spotify. They're making millions and millions of dollars in the music business. They're doing incredible! And that business is very different than the part of the business that the Grammys is perceived to represent."
Kendrick Was Bold, Stapleton Wasn't
"The Grammys usually get the big categories right, or at least more right than the genre categories. For album of the year, all five nominees are deserving. I personally love two of the albums: I love Chris Stapleton [Traveller], and I love Kendrick Lamar [To Pimp a Butterfly]. I like The Weeknd. I like the sound of the Alabama Shakes record, but I wish it had some choruses.
"And Taylor Swift ... I recognize that it's an awesome record and I respect the unbridled ambition, but I'm kind of over the whole thing. Plus, she already won an album of the year Grammy, and my personal opinion is that Fearless had more artistry and less just going for the commercial jugular.
"I voted for Kendrick. I thought his record was bold in a way that Stapleton's wasn't. Kendrick could have made a pop album and sold 5 million copies. Instead, he made this crazy f--ing record. And I love it. The Weeknd's record was real big, but my feeling is it won't be that. The Nashville bloc is powerful and maybe they'll sway the vote for Stapleton, but my guess is that it'll probably come down to Taylor and Kendrick."
A Total Grammy Song
"Ed Sheeran's 'Thinking Out Loud' is so schmaltzy, that's a total Grammy song. I voted for 'Girl Crush.' It's powerful, and it became a country hit even without radio."
The Guy with the Loops
"Best new artist? James Bay is the safe Grammy guy, because he's authentic. Not a big Meghan Trainor fan, but she probably deserves it. Sam Hunt should win, though. He changed country music. Everybody has loops now. And he was the guy with loops."
Everyone Has An Agenda
"There's one part of the Grammy process that I don't think most people know about. In each category, the voters select 15 albums or songs to be nominated. Then there are committees for each genre, and those committees narrow those 15 nominees down to five. Which I think is wrong, and I'm on a committee! On top of that, the committee can actually replace two of those five records that people actually voted for with records that weren't even in the initial top 15. My committee had, like, 15 people -- producers, managers, etc. -- and everyone had their own agenda. Myself included! In my category, at least one act that wasn't in the top 15 ended up with a Grammy nomination."
Lobbying and Livelihoods
"I find that the lobbying for votes is actually more prevalent by the independent labels than by the majors. Independent artists in, say, the blues category will come right out and say, 'Hey, vote for me.' Which makes sense. If you're a blues artist and you win a Grammy, that's a very important thing for your livelihood. If Alabama Shakes wins a Grammy, is it really going to make that much of a difference in their career? Probably not."
So Massive, So Fun
"If 'Uptown Funk!' isn't record of the year, something's wrong. It's so massive, so fun. And it's a perfect example of a record of the year, but not a song of the year. Because it's not a great song; it's a great record. I feel like it's 'Uptown Funk!' by a landslide."
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of Billboard.