The Grammy Award nominations generally pack a fair number of surprises each year, but the 2018 main categories — Album, Song and Record of the Year and Best New Artist — are more racially diverse than any in memory. Among the artists nominated for the top categories — including Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Alessia Cara, SZA and Childish Gambino — there are several black males, several Hispanics, a Canadian of Italian descent, a New Zealander and hardly any white males. While the Album, Song and Record categories are dominated by males, three females are up for Best New Artist. Variety discussed this during an interview with Recording Academy CEO/chairman Neil Portnow on Monday.
We couldn’t help but notice the top four categories are quite diverse — you could almost start a #GrammySoDiverse hashtag. Obviously you don’t control the nominations, but do you have an opinion on that?
I like that [hashtag], let’s get that going! Actually, I do [have an opinion]. I think there are a number of elements that contribute to having a slate like we have this year. Number one, top of the list, let’s remember how we get to these nominations: It’s a voting process by approximately 13,000 voting members: They are the professionals who are making the music, and they represent all 84 categories across the board, right down to the chapter level, at the 12 cities that have chapters. Second, the results are reflecting the music of the times —hip-hop and urban music is pervasive in our society worldwide — not just in America. So when that continues to be evident and evolve, this is a reflection of that. And the third element is that we introduced online voting for the first year this year, and if you think about our voting population, they’re working musicians — and where are they? Working in the studio or touring, so being liberating from a paper ballot to an online one is a positive step forward, because it enables more people to participate and it’s a more achievable process. I think you put those together and that’s what you get, and we couldn’t be more proud of where we wound up this year.
Do you think it’s a reaction to the “Oscars So White” movement of 2016?
I honestly think that our community — musicians — really listens with their ears more than their eyes or anything else. So if you put our voters in a room with a blindfold, I think our community is very open-minded and thinks about music in a universal more holistic fashion, but our voters in particular are thinking about the craft. So I don’t know that there’s a movement here as a result of criticism and difficulties in the film or TV industry — I just think this is how our highest level of professionals feel about music today.