The album will still be put on the preliminary ballot going out to Recording Academy members, but in the category of best compilation soundtrack for visual media instead of comedy album, Billboard reported Thursday. The album is made up of musical material that appeared in Burnham’s hit Netflix special, “Inside.”
Billboard said that Burnham’s record label, Republic, confirmed the news. The Recording Academy does not make the preliminary ballots that go out to voters public, so controversies over classification usually only become widely known if the artist or label opts to go public with dissatisfaction over the genre they end up in.
That was the case Tuesday when a major music news story emerged out of letter that Kacey Musgraves’ record company president, Cindy Mabe, wrote to Academy chief Harvey Mason Jr., calling foul on Grammy screening committees’ decision to put her “Star-Crossed” album in contention for pop album instead of country album, the category where it’d been submitted by Universal Music Group Nashville.
Since Burnham’s album went to No. 1 on the comedy chart — and has remained in that top spot for its 18 weeks of release — it’s not known what the Academy comedy screening committee’s rationale for disqualifying it is.
The fact that that it consists of material recorded for TV instead of an audio medium might be seen as a factor in bumping it to soundtrack contention — if not for the fact that last year’s winner, Tiffany Haddish’s “Black MItzvah,” was also the soundtrack to a Netflix special, as were other contenders last year like Jerry Seinfeld’s “23 Hours to Kill” and Bill Burr’s “Paper Tiger.” In fact, most of the albums nominated for comedy in recent years have been soundtracks to TV or streaming specials.
The decision could instead reflect a desire to keep the category to spoken-word standup and disallow satirical music. That explanation doesn’t necessarily track, either, though, looking at past winners and nominees: There’s a history of nominated musical material dating back to the Chipmunks and Stan Freberg getting nods for comedy as far back as 1959, and as recent as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Mandatory Fun” winning best comedy album as recently as 2015. Similarly, Flight of the Conchords’ music EP “The Distant Future” won in 2007.
Republic had submitted the song “All Eyes on Me” for best song written for visual media — a category akin to the one the Grammy committee shuffled the album into. That song was also submitted for record of the year, song of the year and best pop solo performance, Billboard reported, along with submissions for the Netflix special as best music film and for the “Inside” full-length recording as album of the year.
In the case of Musgraves’ album, which debuted at the top of Billboard’s country chart, there was considerably more critical and public discussion leading up the Grammys’ controversial decision as to whether “Star-Crossed” felt more like a country or pop album.
Variety reported Wednesday on how the deal went down in the reclassification of Musgraves’ album. The country screening committee felt that it did not meet the bar of consisting of at least 51% country material, and so sent it over to the pop screening committee to see if they felt it was primarily pop. If the pop committee had disagreed, the country committee would have taken the matter back into its hands and likely agreed to keep it in a country category, as submitted. But the pop division’s screeners agreed it was mostly a pop album. After Mabe and Musgrave’s manager, Jason Owen, privately and vehemently objected to it being shifted to pop, the Academy made the unusual decision to bring in the core committee, which usually only oversees the top four general categories. They, too, decided it belonged in pop. It was after that appeal failed that Mabe wrote the letter to Mason Jr. Sunday.
Burnham’s album would have been a runaway favorite if it had stayed in the comedy album field, given its utter dominance in that arena this year. The Netflix special has been such a popular phenomenon, though, that the album may stand a good chance in the soundtrack category, even though it may seem apples-and-oranges with some of the music score albums it’ll be up against.