BTS has yet to land its first Grammy nomination, but the red-hot K-pop group has been invited to become members of the Recording Academy. It’s part of a massive drive to bring in new members, especially ones who will help diversify the Academy’s membership along racial, gender and age lines. BTS fulfills two of those goals, which helps explain why they were among 1,340 potential new members invited to join.
This is the second time in the past year that the Academy has made a major outreach to potential new members. Last year, owing to efforts by the Academy’s then-newly-formed Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, 900 invitations went out. According to the Academy, about 20% of those people (180) took the Recording Academy up on its offer and joined.
This second outreach works a little differently. The 1,340 new invitations were extended under the Academy’s new community-driven and peer-reviewed membership model, in which current members recommend potential new members. (Academy officials add that the total of 1,340 invitations extended includes second invites to some of the approximately 720 who were invited last year and didn’t join.)
Of the invites, 1,186 are to become voting members; 154 are to become “professional” (non-voting) members.
Laura Segura Mueller, vice president of membership and industry relations at the Academy, said in a statement: “The 2019 class is comprised of music creators and professionals from across the music industry. Their talents and backgrounds span many genres, crafts, ethnicities, genders, ages, locations and professions. As a result of meaningful recent changes to our member recruitment process, the class is more representative of the diverse voices, modes of expression, and excellence within the music industry, as compared to the data reported in the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative studies released in 2018 and 2019.”
The Annenberg studies revealed a lopsided gender breakdown, reporting that across Billboard chart data sources, women only account for 21.7 percent of artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters and 2.1 percent of producers.
According to the Academy, 49% of the potential 1,340 new members are women, 41% are from “traditionally underrepresented communities” (a euphemism for non-Caucasian) and 51% are age 39 and under. The Academy further revealed that its current membership is 26% females, 24% “traditionally underrepresented communities” and 29% age 39 and under.
“When you compare these figures to what was reported in the 2019 Annenberg study, it’s clear that our new member class shows a marked improvement,” said Mueller. “We are deeply committed continuing this positive trend for years to come.”
But she stressed that it will become harder and harder for the Academy to find qualified new members to invite to become voting members unless the music industry extends more opportunities to women and minorities.
“With such dire statistics industry-wide, we will face challenges with future new member classes if not enough women and people of color are being hired, mentored, and have access to opportunities in to lead and excel. The industry-wide change we need will only be achieved when new voices are encouraged to rise through the ranks,” she said.
These changes are part of a broad commitment to diversity that the Academy undertook last year in the wake of a clumsy comment by Neil Portnow, the Academy’s president/CEO, that touched off a firestorm. The Academy organized the aforementioned Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, chaired by Tina Tchen, to better understand the barriers and biases affecting underrepresented voices in the music industry and the Academy.
Portnow, whose nearly 17-year run as president/CEO ends at the end of July, reflects, “I thank Tina and all of the participants for their hard work and follow-through… The task force was key in reviewing and helping us get this new member model off the ground after many years of internal development. “
Breaking down the 1,340 new invitations by craft, 57% went to vocalists, followed by instrumentalists (15%), songwriters (15%), producers (9%) and engineers (6%).
By genre, the top genre is pop (17%), followed by rap (13%), American roots music (12%), R&B (11%) and rock (11%).
In order to participate in the process for the upcoming Grammy Awards, the new members have to accept their invitations by Sept. 15. The first voting ballot opens Sept. 25 and closes Oct. 10. The 62nd Grammy Awards are set to take place Jan 26, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Does all of this make a difference in award outcomes? Quite possibly. Those 180 people who became new members last year may have helped Childish Gambino‘s “This Is America” become the first hip-hop track to win Grammys for record and song of the year. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a tantalizing possibility.