This year’s rollout of the Grammy nominations was much smoother than last year’s. Last year, on the eve of the nominations announcement, the Academy expanded the number of nominations in each of the Big Four categories from eight to 10. Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason, jr. was concerned that hip-hop representation in the Big Four categories was light and saw that it would improve if they went a little deeper.
There were no frantic, last-minute moves this year. The Academy continues to have 10 slots in each of the Big Four categories, something Mason likes and plans to continue. Mason spoke with Billboard on the eve of this year’s nominations announcement.
What did you think of the nominations?
I love the diversity. I love the range of different genres; the fact that we have six or seven different genres in the general field categories – in the Big Four categories – is crazy. We have almost 50% gender parity, which is great to see. I love that people of color are over 50%, which is exciting. In general, I thought the voters did great work.
I’m pleased that the voters are doing the due diligence to really give music a fair listen. You see some music that’s very popular. You see some other music that is not as popular but [is] just as great. You see younger, older – just a lot of variety.
Mary J. Blige has two of the Big Three nominations, which is a little surprising for a veteran artist. What’s your take on that?
It’s a tribute to her obvious talent; her long-standing career. She’s been putting out great music for such a long time and she’s so well-respected. I’m really happy that voters are acknowledging her work this year.
Steve Lacy also has two of the Big Three nominations, but he wasn’t eligible for best new artist because he had been nominated previously. What do you think of that rule?
That’s a really tough rule. How do you decide when somebody is considered new and when they’re not? It’s so subjective. We’ll continue to look at all of our rules and keep trying to refine them. We just want to make sure we’re doing the best we can to honor as many excellent artists as possible. We’ll see where this thing goes.
I picture you getting the nominations list each year and thinking, “OK, who’s going to beat us up this year?” Inevitably, there will be somebody.
I’m never happy to hear complaints from people who are unhappy. We want these awards and nominations to really represent the year in music. I want to make sure that we’re being accurate with our nominations.
Again this year, country music is missing from the Big Four categories. A lot of things that could have been nominated just didn’t get there. I’m thinking especially of Miranda Lambert and Luke Combs for album of the year and Lainey Wilson for best new artist. Do you feel that you could strike a better balance there?
We’re going through all our genres and we’re spending great time and care to make sure we are actively recruiting people to come and join us and be a part of what we’re doing. We have to continue to look at everything – membership, nominations, our events, our shows – and make sure we are representative, because we want to represent all music. This is not about one genre versus the other. So, if there’s an area where we’re light, we’re going to catch it.
Let’s talk best new artist. Five female pop singers – Em Beihold, GAYLE, Tate McRae, Lauren Spencer-Smith and Dove Cameron – seemed to have a good shot at a nomination. All were passed over. When you look at the list of nominees in that category, even people who know music will be saying “Who’s that?” in a few instances.
That’s the exciting part of best new artist – you can discover something amazing.
But at the expense of those five women, all of whom had big, recognizable and very good hits.
That category is not a one-and-done situation. There’s an opportunity for many of those to come back into the conversation next year. This year, these are the ones that resonated with the voters. We ask our voters to do a lot of homework. They listen to a lot of music. They’re very contentious with their votes. These are the ones they came up with this year. I think it’s a pretty cool list. We have two jazz artists on that list [DOMi & JD Beck and Samara Joy]. I think that’s very cool.
Drake and The Weeknd declined to submit their albums this year. You put out a statement saying you accepted their decision. What are you doing to reach out to them and bring them back into the fold?
I’m never pleased when somebody chooses not to submit. My hope is that we can continue to do the work; continue to evolve the organization to the point where we continue to attract great people to submit; who want to be a part of the awards process. Of course, I’m always disappointed when some of our biggest and brightest artists aren’t a part of it and we just want to continue to be better, so that everyone feels a part of our organization.
Nicki Minaj expressed her displeasure at “Super Freaky Girl” being moved from rap to pop, where she was less likely to be nominated – and where she wasn’t nominated. Are you comfortable that it was placed in pop?
I’m not comfortable when artists aren’t comfortable. In general, I do feel strongly that the screening committees work extremely hard and were very diligent. We had experts in the room to listen to all the genres and they had to make some really difficult choices. It’s a subjective thing. One person hears [something] as rap, one person hears it as rock, one person hears it as pop. So it’s not easy. I never want us to cause displeasure for an artist. That’s something we try to avoid at all costs. Going forward, we’ll continue to look at that part of our process to make sure we’re getting it right.
How did you think having 10 nominees in each of the Big Four categories worked this year?
I think you’re seeing the diversity that we always hope to have. We get a chance to celebrate more music [rather] than less. That’s always going to make things exciting for us at the Academy. Having the age, race and gender range is something that I love about the general field. I think it’s worked really well so far.
Anything you want to add?
The only thing I would add is my enthusiasm for the show this year. We’re so excited to be back on home court. [The show will return to Crypto.com Arena, formerly Staples Center, for the first time in three years.] It will be great to be in the room with all of these incredibly talent artists, music people, to celebrate each other. This is a time to look across the room and see all these incredible people. Coming out of COVID, coming out of different societal issues that we’re facing, this show to me is the chance to uplift and to start healing some of this. I’m excited to see all these different types of people from every walk of life, every age, every race, in the room or on the stage celebrating each other and celebrating music.
soul, classic soul, motown,