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Grammy Shakeup Could Diversify The Nominees, But Will It Impact Who Wins?

This fall, nearly twice as many acts will celebrate Grammy Award nominations in the Big Four categories -- but the honor might not feel quite as special.

This fall, nearly twice as many acts will celebrate Grammy Award nominations in the Big Four categories — but the honor might not feel quite as special.

The Recording Academy’s decision on June 26 to expand the record, song and album of the year and best new artist categories from five to eight nominees takes effect with the 61st annual Grammys in February 2019 and marks one of the most sweeping changes since the awards’ introduction in 1959. Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow says the change “creates more opportunities for a wider range of recognition in these important categories and gives more flexibility to our voters.” That recognition will likely translate to upticks in sales and streaming for a larger number of artists, songwriters, labels and publishers.

But industry reaction has been mixed so far. While S-Curve Records president Steve Greenberg says that “it will presumably allow for a broader variety of genres to be represented in these categories,” Glassnote Entertainment Group president Daniel Glass notes that he applauds the move if it results in more diversity, but fears “diluting the brand or the excellence level. I’ve always thought of the Grammys as the ultimate in excellence.”


And while move may well diversify the nominee ranks, its not clear whether it will do the same for voters and winners — a more pressing issue after this year’s male-dominated show and losses for hip-hop’s biggest stars.

The Latin Recording Academy, which operates separately from The Recording Academy, expanded from five to 10 nominees in the same four categories for the Latin Grammys in 2012. The plan has given artists who might be relatively unknown stateside greater exposure and also expanded nominations beyond critical favorites.

That move came three years after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doubled the number of best picture nominees from five to up to 10 in an effort to allow more blockbusters to be nominated in the top category and potentially broaden the Academy Awards audience. However, a larger audience hasn’t appeared: The 2018 Oscars drew 26.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the lowest-rated telecast ever.

The suggested Grammy changes were ratified at the Trustees’ meeting in May in Hawaii. Other than in cases of a tie, the nominations have been limited to five in each of the four General Field categories since the Grammys’ inception (the best new artist award began with the 2nd Grammy Awards)  The other 80 categories remain capped at five nominations each.


In the first round, the general voting membership will continue to vote for only five choices in each of the General Field categories. A nominations review committee will then take the top 20 selections and narrow the finalists down to eight. In the final round, voters will select their top pick. The votes are not weighted.

The change is one of the biggest under Portnow’s watch and likely will be one of his last, as he will depart the Recording Academy after his current contract expires in July 2019.

This article originally appeared in the June 30 issue of Billboard.