David Oliver USA TODAY
November 24, 2020
Grammy nominations arrived Tuesday, and in a year when diversity is top of mind, the Recording Academy is trying to improve on its history. Did it succeed?
The Recording Academy recognized the Black community with nominations this year in major categories – Beyoncé got nine, the most for any nominee, including record of the year and song of the year for "Black Parade." Hip-hop chart-toppers Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby and Roddy Ricch were recognized with record of the year nods.
The organization has tried to improve upon its diversity standards. It formed a task force in May 2018 following its January 2018 ceremony that celebrated mostly men and pop music. It vowed to examine "barriers and biases affecting women and other underrepresented voices in the music industry and, specifically, the Recording Academy," according to a news release at the time, and pledged to double the number of women voters by 2025.
In a continued push, the Recording Academy invited 2,300 music professionals to its 2020 member class, many of whom were from diverse backgrounds. Along with Grammy-winner Lil Nas X – the "Old Town Road" singer who came out as gay last year – inductees included songwriter Victoria Monét, R&B singer Kiana Ledé, rapper Gunna and gospel singer Le’Andria Johnson.
The academy's membership was only 26% female and 25% underrepresented ethnic/racial communities when the Academy sent its 2020 class invitations in July.
But the Recording Academy – like many other awards bodies – still has work to do to achieve stronger, consistent representation.
"I don't think we’ll say proud yet," Harvey Mason Jr., interim CEO/president of the Recording Academy, told USA TODAY in an interview about the diversity of this year's nominees. "We're feeling positive or feeling optimistic about where we're headed. We still know there is a lot of work to be done around not just the Black music community, but all the communities to make sure we're completely reflective of all the different genres and people who make up our membership, and make up all the different types of music that we represent."
Honoring those who come from diverse backgrounds gives these artists a strong signal boost – and though awards show representation doesn’t solve the racial inequities wrought by society, it tells fans from these communities that people who look like them, sound like them and love like them matter.
The Black Lives Matter movement certainly played a role in this year's nominations, with Beyoncé's "Black Parade," which came out on Juneteenth and benefited Black businesses, scoring nods for both record of the year and song of the year. "I Can't Breathe," a searing song about systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S., from H.E.R., also landed a song of the year nomination.
The major categories of record of the year, song of the year and best new artist honor Black and female musicians – though whether they will walk away with wins remains to be seen.
Beyoncé has won 24 Grammys, though memorably lost album of the year in 2017 for "Lemonade" to Adele’s "25." The loss for "Lemonade," an album specifically celebrating Black women, proved controversial. Adele even honored Beyoncé in her speech. Artists of color like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar have lost to white artists like Beck and Taylor Swift in recent years.
Justin Bieber, meanwhile, scored a nomination for best pop vocal album, though he insisted on Instagram that it was an R&B album. "I am very meticulous and intentional about my music," he wrote. "Changes was and is an R&B album."
Hip-hop artist Zé Taylor responded on Twitter: "Now you see how black artists feel when they make POP music and get shoved into 'urban' categories".
Elsewhere, women in country music and rock had a strong showing. Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert and Ingrid Andress scored best country album nominations; Andress is also nominated for best new artist. The best rock performance category includes all-female nominees.
A closer look at the Recording Academy’s new class suggests that while inclusive, it may not be inclusive enough – which the academy acknowledges. Through that lens, this year's nominations should not come as much of a surprise. Half of the inductees are white; 21% are African-American or of African descent; 8% are hispanic; and only 3% are Asian American/Pacific Islander/Asian (5% are “other” and 13% did not disclose their race).
"We've done a lot of things internally," Mason said. This includes hiring a diversity and inclusion officer and starting the Black Music Collective, made up of Black music creators and executives "brought together in a wing of the Academy to advise us and to give us the information and insight about what needs to be done to make sure we're representing Black people and Black music properly within our membership, within our awards, on our show and across the industry," Mason added.
Nicki Minaj was quick to remind Twitter on Tuesday that she lost best new artist when she was nominated. "Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had 7 songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver," Minaj wrote of the 2012 ceremony.
Sean "Diddy" Combs, winner of the Industry Icon award at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy Gala before last year's ceremony, challenged the industry to get its act together in the next year when it comes to diversity.
His call to action and efforts from the Recording Academydid not improve the album of the year nominations.
Album of the year is glaringly not inclusive, with only two out of the eight nominations for Black artists (Jhené Aiko is also Japanese, Dominican, and Native American.) Nominee Jacob Collier is part-Chinese.
No K-Pop groups broke into any of the major categories, and it's clear more artists of color or of other marginalized communities could have filled more slots across major categories.
Who would we have liked to see, or see more of? K-pop group BTS – which has an enormous and vocal fan base – only has one nomination for best pop duo/group performance for "Dynamite" (though fans and the group themselves were ecstatic on social media for the nod) . Colombian singer J Balvin also has only one nomination in the same category as BTS.
"We would like to be nominated and possibly get an award," RM of BTS told Esquire; the group has had one other nomination previously for best recording package. "I think the Grammys are the last part, like the final part of the whole American journey."
K-pop groups Blackpink and SuperM – both eligible for best new artist, according to Billboard – did not earn any nods.
Lady Gaga, who is bisexual, failed to secure major awards attention for album “Chromatica” with only a nod for best pop vocal album and one for her performance of “Rain on Me” with Ariana Grande.
Run the Jewels and charts-topper The Weeknd were shut out. Run the Jewels rappers Killer Mike and El-P wrote and recorded "RTJ4" prior to the summer's George Floyd protests, but their lyrics about police brutality and systemic racism matched what the country needed to hear.
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