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NEAR TRUTHS: BLOWING THE WHISTLE

WHISTLEBLOWERS: Some Grammy insiders are exasperated and pissing outside the tent over a selection process they claim has been broken for well over a decade—so broken, in fact, that of the 13k eligible voters, fewer than 500 voted in the first round. No wonder the secret screening committees were implemented to offset this appallingly low voter turnout. Yet those committees, it seems, have had their own perverting effect. It’s claimed that certain executive committee members, trustees and screening-committee members have secured nominations and wins for projects connected to their own agendas, as the process of turning first-round long lists to second-round short lists often takes a detour through “egregious omission-ville,” and participants canvas their secret-screening comrades. This process, intended as a nuclear option, has instead become a Trojan horse. More and more trustees and committee members are coming forward, seeking a change to the double dealing.

This controversy hit a fever pitch over the last 30 days, as Dugan-gate exploded in the mass media just before (and after) Music’s Biggest Night. Accusations about undue influence, self-dealing and conflict of interest abounded, many of which have been substantiated by first-hand accounts from people involved in the process—who have thus far asked to remain anonymous.

The leaks proliferated to such an extent that Academy interim chief Harvey Mason Jr. felt compelled to issue a late-night letter to trustees urging them to talk to the press only via PR—which immediately leaked to the press—and offering talking points on multiple controversies, including the Grammy vote, diversity, the appointment of new leadership and sexual harassment. You can read that material in its entirety here. In his missive, Mason emphasizes that Dugan’s “outrageous assertion that the Grammys are ‘rigged’ is utterly false,” adding:

 We do realize that the nomination and voting process needs to be better understood so we have taken steps to make it more public and to educate people about how it works to preserve fairness and protect Nominations Review Committee members from lobbying and pressure. In addition, as always, our awards process will be reviewed at the upcoming April Awards and Nominations Committee meeting.

Mason further insists that investigations of Dugan’s other charges are underway and that the Academy is currently “implementing 17 of the 18 recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, led by Tina Tchen, and considering adoption of the 18th recommendation. We will shortly be reconvening the group to review our progress.”

POWER CENTER: It’s been a longtime complaint that the Grammy electorate is insufficiently diverse with respect to age, gender and ethnicity—indeed, that the whole enterprise has been too old, white and male for ages. It’s believed that a small group of trustees or board members, over the course of long tenures in the Academy ranks, have had entirely too much to say about the process, and that a handful of these have enjoyed powerful positions for eight to 10 of the last 15 years.

The executive committee, where many of these long tenures were served, is the fulcrum of power of the Board, with its 40-plus trustees. A select few hold that power, goes a frequent complaint, as a result of the complicated governance of the Academy.

The recent debacle over the country category continues to rankle, as Music City power players seethe over the supposed manipulation of the system that has taken deserving acts out of the running in favor of projects favored by chapter influencers. One Nashville trustee’s name keeps coming up in conversations about the controversy.

But rather than naming names, amid the fingerpointing from Grammy insiders, some biz watchers believe it’s more important to seize the opportunity for change. With the recommendations of Tina Tchen’s task force and the elevation of Mason to Chief Executive, such change had begun to seem more possible. Mason has talked a lot about change—albeit not as precipitous or as radical as Dugan hoped; when the latter lost the power to hire and fire, and learned she didn’t have the powerful elite on her side, it precipitated the crisis that curdled into Grammy’s Worst Night Ever.

Mason’s unsuccessful effort to control the narrative and limit press access to the approved talking points could help confirm the suspicion of some skeptics that the proffered changes in Grammyland (not least regarding transparency) would be largely cosmetic. But without a major overhaul of Academy governance—and involving a new group of industry leaders to ensure the voting process becomes more equitable—it’ll be business as usual.

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