The article states that during a Dec. 11 meeting with members of the Family Music Forward organization and two acts that asked for their nominations to be withdrawn from the category, Recording Academy officials — including interim president/CEO Harvey Mason, jr. and chief diversity officer Valeisha Butterfield Jones — conceded that the nominees and the nomination-review committee for the category were not sufficiently diverse.
Early last month, the Okee Dokee Brothers, Alastair Moock and collaborator Anand Nayak, and the children’s act Dog on Fleas publicly asked the Academy to withdraw their nominations from the category because all of the nominees were white. Following the Dec. 11 meeting, the Academy determined that the three acts will not be included and the Grammy for the category will go to which of the two remaining nominees, Joanie Leeds and Justin Roberts, gets the most votes.
The controversy was one of several around the 2021 nominations and particularly the secret committees that determine them. Disputes arise around nominations for virtually every major awards event, but the Grammys have been particularly criticized for a lack of racial and gender diversity in their nominees and award winners in recent years, as reflected by the uproar around former CEO Neil Portnow’s 2018 comment that female musicians and executives need to “step up” in order to advance in the industry.
Diversity is not the only issue that has brought criticism to the nominating committees: many industry insiders were shocked that the Weeknd, one of the most critically and commercially successful artists of the past year and decade, received no nominations while many more niche artists did, and also questioned why such similarly successful artists as Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, Lil Uzi Vert and the late Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke were largely overlooked in the rap categories. While diversity was not at issue with those matters, in a blockbuster legal complaint against the Academy last year, former president-CEO Deborah Dugan alleged that board members on the 12-to-17-member “secret committees” that choose the nominees represent or have relationships with nominated artists and use the committees as an opportunity to push those artists forward, among other allegations.
The Academy, which has forcefully denied those allegations, has long maintained that the identities of the committee members is kept secret to avoid outside pressure, despite increasing pressure to make the process more transparent; Dugan’s legal complaint is ongoing.
However, according to children’s music artist Aaron Nigel Smith, who was present at the Dec. 11 meeting, a Recording Academy rep responded to the FMF’s call for “more transparency in the entire voting process, including an overhaul of the nomination review committee” by reiterating the “need for protection and privacy,” but added, “Nothing is off the table, and we will continue to evaluate,” according to the report.
Reached by Variety, reps for the Recording Academy did not dispute the report, but did not immediately have further comment.
Also present at the roundtable discussion were other Academy officials and children’s music artists Smith, Christina Sanabria of 123 Andres, Pierce Freelon, Joe Mailander of the Okee Dokee Brothers and Moock, all of whom are members of the FMF, an artists’ collective formed last year summer to combat racial bias in the music industry.
The Academy responded quickly after Family Music Forward complained publicly on Dec. 4 about the all-white nominee slate, and set up a Zoom meeting for Dec. 11, according to the report. Present were all of the category nominees — Mailander and Justin Lansing of the Okee Dokee Brothers, Moock, Dean Jones of Dog on Fleas, Joanie Leeds and Justin Roberts, who is an Academy trustee — as well as Lucy Kalantari, the frontwoman of Lucy & The Jazz Cats, and Black children’s music artists Smith, Uncle Devin, his manager Lolita Walker and Tommy Shepherd of the ABC Rockers. Mason and Butterfield Jones were among the Academy officials who took part in the meeting, according to the report.
“The big thing that the Grammys admitted in that meeting was that the nomination review committee [for the category] did not have strong representation from people of color,” Mailander said. “That was said outright — they said it should have been stronger, and that it was unacceptable.”
The children’s music category has included nominees of color in four of the past five years, and while it is one of the more niche genres in the Grammy purview, it is still a surprising situation to have in 2021. “I would say this is a special category that really needs to have experts that understand the diverse array of genres,” said Mailander. “They didn’t have that, and it is embarrassing to our category.” However, Smith said the Academy “seemed to be on board for creating meaningful change.”
Earlier this week, the Grammy Awards were moved to March 14 due to the spike in Covid-19 cases in the Los Angeles area. The ceremony, hosted by “The Daily Shows”’s Trevor Noah, is currently scheduled to take place in various locations in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center.