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PROPOSAL: HOW TO FIX THE GRAMMYS' "COMMITTEE PROBLEM"

I just heard Alessia Cara's "Scars to Your Beautiful" on the radio and felt bad for her. Hearing Cara's single—her second big hit in the past year—reminded me that she failed to get a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, as was widely expected.

I'd be willing to bet that Cara was in the top five in the voting of rank-and-file members of the Recording Academy. But, as you doubtless know, that's no longer enough to land a nomination in the Big Four categories—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist.

Since 1995, the final nominations in these categories have been determined by a committee of Grammy insiders. The committee's work is secret, but I suspect they knocked out three pop artists—Cara, Shawn Mendes and Lukas Graham—to make room for acclaimed hip-hop star Chance the Rapper, country star Kelsea Ballerini (below left) and, most surprising, urban contemporary artist Anderson .Paak.

The committee's hand is also evident this year in nominations for Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth for Album of the Year (over, say, Sia's This Is Acting or Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman); and Beyoncé's "Formation" for Record of the Year (over, say, Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" or The Chainsmokers/Halsey megahit "Closer").

You may think in some cases these (imagined) changes were improvements. You may not. Either way, I feel bad for the artists who lost out in the Grammy shuffle.

It has always struck me as elitist to have the full membership of the academy vote—and then have a select committee of perhaps 25 Grammy insiders overrule their choices. I know why the committee was put in place by former academy CEO Michael Greene. Grammy voters were often too stodgy and safe in their choices; too loyal to brand-name artists whose creative peaks may have been years in the past.

But the good that the committee does comes at a cost—at least for the artists whose hard-earned nominations are, in a very real sense, taken away from them by a committee that thinks it knows better than the voters.

So I have a proposal. (This isn't just a rant!) The committee would no longer have the power to take a nomination away from an artist (or songwriter). They could only add. They would have to accept the five albums, singles, songs and new artists that earned nominations based on the voting of the membership. But they would have the power to add up to two entries in each of these four categories to enrich the field; correct an egregious oversight; or strike better genre, gender or racial balance.

This way, no one would get hurt by the committee's work—other than by facing increased competition in the final round of voting. (It's possible that one of the entries that the committee added would in some cases end up winning the award. That's OK. At least the five original, voter-selected nominees had a chance at winning. For the past 22 years, some—we'll never know how many—artists have been denied that chance.)

If the committee thinks the voters chose wisely, they don't need to add anything. There's nothing wrong with a field of five nominees. (Actually, it's the ideal number.) But if they think they can meaningfully improve matters by adding one or two entries, they would have the power to do so. They shouldn't just add something to put their mark on the proceedings. They should only act if they are making a real and even necessary improvement.

Another thing: As far as I'm concerned, they could add whatever they wanted (if it meets the test spelled out in the previous paragraph). Currently, as academy chief Neil Portnow has explained it to me, the committee can only choose from entries that placed in the top 20 based on the votes of the membership. If something great finishes 21st, the committee doesn't even see it. I would eliminate that restriction (which seems arbitrary—why 20 and not 15 or 25?).

If the committee stopped taking nominations away, it would probably engender less controversy, suspicion and ill feeling. Best of all, I wouldn’t have to feel bad every time I hear a talented newcomer like Alessia Cara on the radio.


A Grammy post-script: Even though Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!" didn't get a Song of the Year nomination, as I expected, I still expect Timberlake to perform the song on the telecast. The song is nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media. The Trolls version features James Corden (who's hosting the Grammy telecast and who hosts The Late Late Show with James Corden on CBS), Anna Kendrick (a "friend of the show," who has presented multiple times), Kunal Nayyar (one of the stars of CBS' top-rated sitcom, The Big Bang Theory) and other stars. It would be a fun number which would enliven the telecast.

Most important, the Grammy telecast airs the night before voting opens for the Academy Awards. Many Oscar voters watch the Grammys. If the Grammys can give a Timberlake a platform that helps him win an Oscar, any hurt feelings over not being nominated for Song of the Year (or being passed over for an Album of the Year nomination three years ago for The 20/20 Experience) will be forgotten.

The Grammy telecast is a huge promotional platform. It's like the world's biggest "For Your Consideration" ad for Oscar voters. Two years ago, John Legend and Common closed the Grammy telecast with "Glory"—while Oscar voting was going on. They won an Oscar for their song from Selma exactly two weeks later.

Last year, Lady Gaga was set to perform "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground (a Grammy nominee that year for Best Song Written for Visual Media) on the Grammy telecast. When David Bowie died unexpectedly five weeks before the Grammys, she abandoned that plan and instead performed a 10-song Bowie medley in tribute. Her song (from a little-seen film) wound up losing the Oscar to "Writing's on the Wall" from the box-office smash, Spectre. If she'd stuck with the original plan and performed it on the Grammys, she might well have won the Oscar. (Since Gaga is such a devoted Bowie fan, I doubt she regrets her decision to switch gears. Well, maybe just a little.) 

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