The Recording Academy announced nine key changes to its awards and nominations process on Wednesday morning (June 10). These changes were ratified at the semiannual Trustees Meeting in May. They take effect immediately and will be in place for the upcoming 63nd annual Grammy Awards. Billboard discussed the changes with Harvey Mason, Jr., Chair & Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy.
1. In best new artist, the Academy dropped the rule that an artist may have released no more than 30 tracks prior to the start of the current eligibility year: The Academy had sought to quantify its definition of best new artist, but found that it’s almost impossible to come up with numbers that are fair in every situation. They will go back to looking at each artist on a case-by-case basis.
Going forward, the screening committees will be charged with determining whether the artist had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year. Such a determination would result in disqualification.
Mason added that the 30-song cap posed a particular problem for rap and hip-hop artists, who tend to release more songs than artists in other genres. They can hit the 30-song cap with just two mixtapes. “In [some] genres, specifically hip-hop and rap, their mode of development is record and release. We felt it was unfairly punishing artists who are prolifically releasing material early in their careers. We do not want to exclude any artist based on a rule that was specifically affecting one genre more than the other.”
Mason remembers times that artists were excluded because of this rule. “I know that there have been times we’ve had to go back and do the math and look at the number of releases and you’re calculating ‘does this count?’ and ‘does that count?’…[This change] takes away any penalty for an artist feeling they need to create and release a lot of content in order to market themselves; in order to find themselves; in order to build themselves as an artist.”
2. Changed best urban contemporary album to best progressive R&B album: Some in the industry think the term “urban” is outdated and racially insensitive. Just last week, Republic Records banned the use of the term. Mason notes that the deadline for awards and nominations proposals is March 1, so this move was well underway before Republic’s announcement.
“There were some uncomfortable feelings around [the term urban],” Mason said. “I think it’s been a gradual shift within in the R&B community. It’s been discussed [within the Academy]. It’s been a little contentious at times.”
The best urban contemporary album category dates to 2002. The Weeknd and Beyoncé are the only repeat winners in the category (counting Beyoncé’s win as one-half of The Carters). The newly named best progressive R&B album will be handed out alongside a returning award, best R&B album.
Here’s the academy’s definition of best progressive R&B album: “This category is intended to highlight albums that include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative.”
The proposal for this change was co-authored by Ivan Barias (Philadelphia chapter trustee), Kokayi Walker (Washington, D.C. chapter trustee) and Chris McClenney (Los Angeles chapter member).
“I’m truly excited for the name change…,” said Barias in a statement. “It shows that the academy is listening to the music community and self-correcting by removing a term that’s been a contentious topic of discussion over the years in the spirit of inclusion. I, along with the co-authors, felt it was time to find a new name that still reflects the original definition while making room for the more progressive styles emerging in the genre.”
McClenney added: “It feels good to move forward from the word ‘urban’ and embrace a more inclusive future.”
3. Changed best rap/sung performance to best melodic rap performance: This is the second major change in this category, which was introduced in 2001 as best rap/sung collaboration. Five years ago, the Academy changed it from an award for a collaboration to an award to a recording whether it was a collaboration or by one artist. Two of the last four winners have been by individuals—Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.”
Best melodic rap performance will given alongside an existing award, best rap performance.
Here’s the definition of the renamed category: “This category is intended to recognize solo and collaborative performances containing elements of rap and melody over modern production. This performance requires a strong and clear presence of melody combined with rap cadence, and is inclusive of dialects, lyrics or performance elements from non-rap genres including R&B, rock, country, electronic or more. The production may include traditional elements of rap or elements characteristic of the aforementioned non-rap genres.”
Mason said this change “puts an emphasis on the melodic nature of the performance. It opens the door to more forward-thinking and more different genre blends. It makes it a little bit more inclusive to have records that have rap but also melody and lyrics.”
4. Moved Latin “urban” recordings from one category to another: Latin “urban” recordings are moving from best Latin rock, urban or alternative album to join Latin pop albums in the newly renamed best Latin pop or urban album. The former category will be renamed best Latin rock or alternative album.
Mason said this change “came directly from the community. The urban community, the reggaeton community tend to feel they’re closer in sound to the pop music. This is coming from them. They asked for this change.”
Mason agrees that there isn’t the sensitivity about the word “urban” in the Latin music world that there is in the Black music world.
5. In response to allegations of conflicts of interest in its nominations review committees, the Academy has tightened its rules: Previously, the rule was that “committee members must disclose conflicts and leave the room and not vote in respective categories.” Now, they may not participate on the committees. “The rule change makes it even more clear who should and should not be in the room.,” Mason said. “We never want a conflict [of interest]; we never want people to perceive there’s a conflict.”
Here’s the new rule:“At the time of invitation to participate on a nominations review committee, a conflict of interest disclosure form will be provided. Each person invited to be a member of such a committee must disclose to the best of their knowledge whether, in connection with any recording that may be entered in the current year’s Grammy Awards process, (a) the person would be in line to receive a Grammy nomination or win for any recordings being considered in a particular category, (b) the person would have any direct or indirect financial ties to the recordings or creators under consideration, (c) the person has immediate familial ties to any of the artists in the top voter selections, and/or (d) any other conflict of interest, actual or perceived.
“If a recording listed by the invitee presents a conflict of interest, the Academy will notify the committee member that they cannot participate on the committee that year. If … a conflict is discovered during the committee meeting, that person will be notified and recused from the meeting. Failure to voluntarily disclose any conflict of interest will result in the person being barred from future Nominations Review Committee participation.”
6. In an effort to trigger more turnover on nomination review committees, the rules have been changed: Under the old rules, committee members had to take one year off after five years of service. That is now true after three years. Under the old rules, committee chairpersons had to take two years off after five years of service. That is now true after three years. Under the old rules, members could serve a maximum combined eight consecutive years (as either a member or a chairperson). They now can serve a maximum combined five consecutive years.
“We want to make sure we have new experts in the room. It keeps it fresh makes sure the leadership is changing over more often,” Mason said. “That’s just good governance; good practice, to make sure that new people are in the room.”
7. In a push for greater transparency, the official Grammy Awards Rulebook is available for the first time on Grammy.com: The rulebook will be available on Wednesday (June 10) and will include this year’s changes. The rulebook has previously been available only to voting members of the Recording Academy and insiders who needed it to fill out entry forms.“I’m proud to have it out there for everyone to see,” Mason says.
8. Capped (at four) the number of “principal vocalists” who can win for best musical theater album: Since the Grammys extended this award to performers in 2012, the number of winning performers has exceeded four three times. Ten principal soloists from Hamilton: An American Musical (the 2015 winner) won Grammys, as did eight from Dear Evan Hansen (2017) and five from last year’s winner, Hadestown.Last year, the rule was simply that “principal vocalist(s) with significant contributing performance” were eligible. This year, they put a numerical cap on it. The new rules also say “Winners certifications to all vocalists on the recording of an ‘ensemble-driven’ piece.”
9. The awards and nominations committee added some flexibility to its rule that it won’t consider a failed proposal again the following year: They added an exception: “Proposals viewed in a different light due to changes in industry or technology may be considered in consecutive years.”
Some saw the old rule as arrogant. Mason doesn’t use that word, but he agrees a change was needed. “The speed at which the industry is changing and evolving makes it necessary for us to be able to look at things every year if we need to. It’s all part of our transformation of the academy to one that is more flexible, more fluid and hopefully one that is really representative and relevant to what’s going on in music today. In order to do that, you have to be able to look at things as many times as we need to and be as open as we need to.”