The Recording Academy has boosted the number of nominees in each of the Big Four categories – album, record and song of the year, plus best new artist – from eight to 10. The change takes effect with the 64th annual Grammy nominations which are being announced in a livestream on Tuesday (Nov. 23) starting at noon ET.
There were just five nominees in each of these categories (with rare exceptions, in the case of ties) from the Grammys’ 1958 launch through 2017. The Academy boosted the number of nominees in these categories to eight in 2018.
Harvey Mason, the Academy’s CEO, and Tammy Hurt, chair of the board of trustees, explained the decision in a letter to the Academy’s approximately 11,000 voting members. “Adding new nominees to these [categories] is a way to cast a wider net, to make room for more artists and genres from music’s expansive and diverse landscape, and to embrace the spirit of inclusion.”
Mason further explained the Academy’s thinking in an interview with Billboard. “It’s kind of been in the works for some time,” he said. “We weren’t sure how it was going to play out. We started when we had five [nominees] talking about moving it to 10. Then we talked about six. Then we moved it to eight, but we’ve always been kind of thinking that 10 might be the right number. The Motion Picture Academy does it. The Latin Recording Academy does it.”
In 2009, the Oscars bumped the number of best picture nominees from five to 10. Two years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences modified that rule, saying there would be between five and 10 best picture nominees. In fact, there have been between eight and 10 best picture nominees every year since 2009. (There were eight at the ceremony in April.) This year, they announced that they will fix the number at 10 starting next year. Best picture is the only Oscar category with more than five nominees.
In 2012, the Latin Grammys bumped the number of nominees in each of their Big Four categories from five to 10.
In their letter, Mason and Hurt said the change also reflects active participation on the part of Grammy voters. “We are receiving a record number of entries each year and this year, a total of 21,730 eligible entries were submitted for Grammy consideration. We had our highest acceptance rate ever of a new member class, 83%, and we had a record number of voters in this [nominations] round – a 17% increase from last year.
“When we examined all of these data points, the Recording Academy felt strongly that the time had come to expand these categories and create more opportunities for music creators to be recognized.” Mason and Hurt framed this last-minute change, on the eve of the nominations announcement, as a reflection of the Academy’s new bolder approach.
“Perhaps in the past, the leadership would have waited for the next awards cycle to make a change. But one thing that we’ve heard loud and clear from you is that you are tired of waiting for big changes. You asked for — and you deserve — an organization that is as nimble and brave as you. In that spirit, we went to the board of trustees and made the case for this direction, and just minutes ago, they adopted it.”
In his Billboard interview, Mason expanded on that question of timing. “We started thinking should we wait to make this change? Should we decide it later in the year or should we do it when we feel that it’s right and feel that it’s needed? In keeping with the way we’ve been going as an Academy, I’m proud to say we were able to move quickly and we were able to listen to the feelings of the music community and also look at the data. Those aren’t things we’ve always done. We haven’t always been able to move quickly, so I’m happy to say we’re jumping right on this.”
The question came down to this: “How do we honor all this incredible music and all these amazingly talented creators. We need to cast a wider net and that’s why we made this change.”
Mason says the decision was made not knowing what records or artist would stand to benefit this year.
Even by jumping from eight to 10 nominees in each of the Big Four categories, the odds against an artist being nominated in these categories are extremely long. This year, there were 1,172 entries for record of the year, 1,163 for song of the year, 837 for album of the year and 463 for best new artist.