A Not-So-Secret Conversation About Grammy Oversight

SG: I would say that the Recording Academy got much of the nominations process right, with one glaring exception…

LB: Yes, Best New Artist.

SG: Though two notable omissions from Album were Tyler, The Creator and Taylor Swift.

LB: Absolutely. I think Tyler had the best album of the year, and Taylor also deserved a nom. But it’s not like the other nominees in that category were plucked from obscurity, as some were with Best New Artist. And this wasn't just our reaction. Everyone I've spoken to in the music business is appalled about the decisions from the Best New Artist Secret Committee.

SG: And you and I agree that most of the nominees in that category—more than half—align with an informed reading of the landscape, yes?

LB: Yes. But can’t we do better than that?

SG: OK, so who are the most notable exclusions from Best New Artist?

LB: I would say they clearly are Lewis Capaldi first and Summer Walker second. I don't understand the Capaldi thing at all. You could make an argument for Summer Walker not getting it this time out because most of her impact came late in the Grammy year—and she may very well get it next year. But there’s no reason why these arrogant people in a private room decided that Lewis, one of the biggest new artists of the year, would be excluded in favor of people with credentials that were not even close.

SG: What do you think was the rationale for excluding him? Of all the people who could be excluded?

LB: I don't get it, is the answer. I think you have to go back to arrogance and ego. Why are those Secret Committee members allowed to decide that virtually unknown acts at early stages of their careers deserve more consideration than someone who was one of the biggest stories of the year in music? Capaldi’s record was gigantic in the U.K. and the U.S., among other places.

SG: And a ballad that hit #1 at Pop radio—and continues to have huge streaming and airplay to this day. And is of course nominated for Song of the Year.

LB: Exactly. So I think their decision is inexcusable, and I think it points to one of the big problems that has to be fixed by the new administration, which is the operations of this secret cabal. These people are supposed to represent the best of all of us in the industry, and they're not doing the right thing. On the most obvious thing. We’re not talking about things that were a close call. They put their personal egos above the reality of what happened in the world this year. As members of the music community, is this what we really want?

SG: Do you think it’s just an issue of people pushing their personal agendas in that room?

LB: I can't really think of any other reason. If you took out everyone with an agenda, who’d be left?

SG: Of course, we don't know—because it's secret.

LB: Right. And why is it secret? If the committee deciding something as massive as who makes the college football playoffs is transparent, why can't our decisions be transparent? Why can't the people who are in the room come out and explain their decisions to us? Because I'd really like to hear the explanation on this one—and everything else.

SG: This calls to mind what some people have suggested about artists from the U.K. in particular being excluded.

LB: There's no answer here that works for me. The Grammys are supposed to be the best of us. They're supposed to support our artists. They're supposed to give the greatest artists in the world a stage to be seen by the biggest possible audience. We're supposed to celebrate the incredible work they did this year. It just doesn't make sense.

I just think the Best New Artist category is always so interesting and sexy, and also so important, and yet it’s always thrown on the scrap heap of controversy. 

SG: Clearly the Best New Artist category needs to be reevaluated. Right out of the box, Capaldi gets Song of the Year, an acknowledgement of how big “Someone You Loved” was and is, but not Best New Artist. Why?

LB: And why was, say, DaBaby excluded, while other artists get in on a technicality? Why are we looking for technicalities to exclude our breakthrough artists, when we should be lauding them? Why did Juice WRLD not get nominated last year, and lose out again this year? Why was Summer Walker skipped over when she had the biggest R&B album of the year? If you have an answer, Secret Committee Chairpeople, we all deserve to hear it.

I just think the Best New Artist category is always so interesting and sexy, and also so important, and yet it’s always thrown on the scrap heap of controversy. Why can’t these people do the right thing? Why go to the obscure instead of the obvious—to prove they’re cooler than we are?

SG: I keep coming back to the idea that the Grammys want to anoint some people nobody else has anointed. They don't want to feel like they're 100% following documented success. They want to create some.

LB: Which is fine. I think they did a great job, for example, anointing Rosalía. She’s a worthy artist who hasn’t yet gone all the way but was relevant all year.

SG: And if she won, though that would be surprising, it would be cool—because she really is that promising.

LB: Yes.

SG: Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to blast some Esperanza Spalding.

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