Grammy Chief Responds to The Weeknd’s Claims of ‘Corruption’ in Nominating Process

The Weeknd Variety Cover Story
Pari Dukovic for Variety

Toward the end of a dramatic day that saw The Weeknd, whose music has dominated 2020, shut out of all Grammy nominations, leading him to accuse the Recording Academy of corruption and a lack of transparency, Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason, jr. has responded to his claims.

In his response, he says that he too was surprised that The Weeknd did not receive any nominations, and confirms reports that the artist was originally expected to perform at the Grammys on January 31, as well as the Super Bowl the following week. But he denies that the negotiations around that situation, which sources say became contentious, had any role in The Weeknd’s absence from the nominations.

“Congratulations to today’s Grammy nominees, who have earned their peers’ recognition for their incredible work,” he wrote. “There were a record number of submissions in this unusual and competitive year.

“We understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated,” he continues. “I was surprised and can empathize with what he’s feeling. His music this year was excellent, and his contributions to the music community and broader world are worthy of everyone’s admiration. We were thrilled when we found out he would be performing at the upcoming Super Bowl and we would have loved to have him also perform on the Grammy stage the weekend before.

“Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists.  But as the only peer-voted music award, we will continue to recognize and celebrate excellence in music while shining a light on the many amazing artists that make up our global community. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd’s performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process.

“All Grammy nominees are recognized by the voting body for their excellence,” he concludes, “and we congratulate them all.”

Despite Mason’s assurances, The Weeknd’s absence from the Grammy nominations is the biggest snub in memory, and one that is difficult to explain beyond the fact that, contrary to the opinions of millions of fans and hundreds of critics, the 20-odd-member nominating committees did not feel his “After Hours” album or its many singles were one of the eight Best Albums, Songs or Records of the Year, or the five best in genre categories.

The Grammy nominations are multi-step process in which committees, which include veteran music professionals, make their decisions based on a shortlist handed down from a screening committee that considers thousands of submissions. Variety spoke with Mason about the matter on Monday, and while he exerts no control over the nominations, he did speak generally on the process.

“I don’t think [the Weeknd’s omission calls the nominations] process into question, honestly,” he said. “The process is there so we can continue to monitor excellence. I was in the ‘core room’ this year [which decides the main categories] and I observed, and the people in it are music professionals, at the top of their craft in songwriting and producing and there are a lot of artists. And they were critically listening to every song that came across their desks — or virtual desks — so I don’t think it shows a flaw in the process. It’s a long, arduous process and people take pride in it. The people in that room care: there are no agendas in there, there’s no ‘let’s snub this person’ or that person. It’s about, ‘Let’s try and find excellence.’”

Regarding The Weeknd’s shutout in the genre categories, a likely possibility is one that Variety nodded to in an article earlier this year: whether The Weeknd is considered a pop or R&B act. While that factor would have played little role in him being left off of the three main categories for which he was eligible (Album, Song and Record of the Year), it’s entirely possible that the screening committees, which determine which releases are appropriate for their respective categories, may have decided that he didn’t fit their categories: In other words, the Pop committee may have considered him R&B and the R&B committee considered him Pop.