UPDATED: The Grammy Awards will cease using the term “urban” in its awards and language as part of the latest round of annual changes to its rules and guidelines, the Recording Academy announced Wednesday (June 10). Along with the changes, which include updates to the Best New Artist category, Latin, R&B and Rap Fields, Nominations Review Committees, the Recording Academy will make the Grammy Awards rules and guidelines book publicly available for the first time — and available here.
The moves are part of a larger effort to advance a “completely new, and very transparent and transformed Recording Academy,” interim president and CEO Harvey Mason jr. tells Variety. “It’s all part of what I hope will be a and a new chapter in our history. We’re listening to and learning from our partners and constituents and stakeholders; we’re trying to make sure we’re able to pivot and change and adapt; and we want to be really inclusive.”
While Republic Records announced last week that it will cease using the term “urban,” Mason noted that the Academy’s changes actually were decided last month. “The time frame of our process is that proposals are turned in by March, they’re discussed [internally at annual board meetings] in May, and now we’re talking about them publicly, so these are things that have been in the works for six months.”
Bill Freimuth, Chief Awards Officer, said in a statement: “As a peer-driven and peer-voted award, members of the music community are directly involved in the growth and preservation of the Grammys process. Each year, we receive a number of rule change proposals from artists, producers and songwriters asking us to reevaluate our process to better reflect the current state of the music industry and how it’s evolved over the past 12 months.”
The Academy weathered a blistering wave of criticism early this year after the controversial ousting of previous president/CEO Deborah Dugan, who was in the post for just five months; in her response, she claimed that the Grammy nominating process was “ripe with corruption,” which the new rule changes seem to be designed in part to address, and some of which were already in motion during Dugan’s tenure. Reached for comment by Variety, Dugan said through a representative: “I am gratified that the Recording Academy finally adopted many of the proposals I initiated while I was its CEO to make the Grammy voting process transparent and fair. It is a good first step toward systemic change.”
The controversy early in the year was followed by the coronavirus pandemic and then the wave of social unrest that has shaken the country. Mason, however, has brought a level of stability to the organization during this turbulent time — helping to lead its charitable wing’s distribution of $20 million to people from the music community impacted by coronavirus — and the changes reflect his stated goals of greater transparency and inclusion. The rule amendments, which Mason explains below, are as follows:
*Best Urban Contemporary Album Category — Renamed and Redefined
Best Urban Contemporary Album has been renamed Best Progressive R&B Album to appropriately categorize and describe this subgenre. This change includes a more accurate definition to describe the merit or characteristics of music compositions or performances themselves within the genre of R&B.
- 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.
*Best Rap/Sung Performance Category — Renamed and Redefined
Best Rap/Sung Performance has been renamed Best Melodic Rap Performance to represent the inclusivity of the growing hybrid performance trends within the rap genre. The expanded category is defined as follows:
- Best Melodic Rap Performance
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.
*Latin Field: Placement of Latin Urban Recordings — Reclassify
Latin Pop Album has been renamed Latin Pop Or Urban Album and Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative has been renamed Latin Rock Or Alternative to migrate the genres of Latin urban and represent the current state and prominent representation in the Latin urban genres.
- Latin Pop Or Urban Album
This category is intended to recognize excellence in Latin pop or urban music recordings that utilize a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content, and/or musical presentation to create a sensibility that reflects the broad spectrum of Latin pop music style and culture. The category includes recordings from balladeers and commercial Latin music and is not limited to any one region.
- Latin Rock Or Alterative Album
This category is intended to highlight Latin rock or alternative music recordings that utilize a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical presentation to create a sensibility that reflects the broad spectrum of the Latin music style and culture.
*Best New Artist — Eligibility
There is no longer a specified maximum number of releases prohibiting artists from entering the Best New Artist category. As such, 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.
*Nominations Review Committees — Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest
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, in the unlikely event that, despite these pro-active efforts 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.
Mason unpacked the changes in a conversation with Variety on Tuesday — read more from that conversation in an article to be published later Wednesday.
“Urban” has been a problematic term for a long time, is there any particular reason why it’s being changed now?
It’s something we’ve been discussing for a couple of years, and the term has been a hot button for a while. A lot of creators and people in that genre didn’t like that description and felt it pigeonholed certain styles of music, so when our constituents brought that to us in the form of a proposal, we listened and voted to approve, as asked by the people in that community. “Progressive R&B” gives us a chance to lean more into the modern R&B and hybrid-style recordings and give us a little bit of flexibility in that category.
Best New Artist used to have a limit on how many recordings a nominee has released, but not any more. Is that an effort to address mixtapes and songs released on SoundCloud and other online platforms?
Essentially. It’s because we felt [the previous 30-release limit] was not fair to certain genres and was making it difficult for certain artists to be eligible for that category that possibly should have been. Specifically, hip-hop and rap artists put out a lot of content early in their careers, mixtapes and [single songs], and it was making it really hard for them to fall under the 30 [release] threshold. We felt removing it gave us a little more flexibility and to be more inclusive and make sure we’re catching the actual Best New Artist each year.
The wording of the conflict-of-interest rules for the nominating committees has changed — what exactly does it mean?
When we started nominee reviews, we had to be sure we paid attention to conflicts of interest. As recently as a few years ago, we revised the conflict policy with regard to who’s in the room and who’s not, but in the  show, the policy was if you had a conflict, you were asked to leave the room during discussion of the category in which you could get a nomination — if you were an artist, songwriter or producer in contention, you were required to leave the room and not come back until that entire category was done being discussed, played and voted upon. Now, you are asked to disclose your conflict before you attend the committee meeting — and if you have one, you are asked not to come at all. And if it’s discovered during the meeting that you didn’t realize you have a conflict, you are asked to leave and not invited to come back. So it’s a little more robust and clear in terms of the requirements.
Was this in response to the complaints about the committees that were aired publicly over the last year?
No, this is something we do every year. We look at proposals in every category for all of our processes and rules, and we go through them. This year, we continued to [evolve] the conflict policy so make our process even more pristine and unchallengeable.
Finally, why has it been decided that the president/CEO and board chair can’t also be co-chairs of committees?
That’s actually not quite accurate: it’s no longer mandatory that they be co-chairs, but they can be. I think the trustees wanted the flexibility to appoint who they thought was best suited to be co-chairs of different committees. If it’s the president/CEO, then so be it; but if not, if they want someone more familiar [with the genre], this gives us the flexibility to appoint someone else.
So it’s not out of sympathy for you having to attend so many meetings, since you’re both board chair and interim president/CEO?
(Laughing) No. In fact, I like sitting in all those meetings, you get a chance really listen to the music and talk about it. But it was not done for that reason.
For the full list of rule amendments for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards, which were voted on and passed at the Recording Academy’s most recent semiannual Board of Trustees meeting held in May 2020, visit here. For information on the Awards process, visit www.grammy101.com. For key dates and eligibility period for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards, visit here.