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HARVEY AT THE BAT

Harvey Mason Jr.’s tenure as Recording Academy boss has been strangely double-edged—often tinged with hope for genuine change, just as often seeming to uphold the problematic status quo. One day he’s a crusading altruist, the next a prototypical insider. Which is why it has been hard, at times, to know how seriously to take his pledges to change the very flawed Grammy system.

The sudden exit of Chief Awards Officer Bill Freimuth, news of which broke last week, indicates that there is more substance to those promises than many (ourselves, at times, included) may have believed. The strongly opinionated Freimuth pursued his own agendas as regards the process, though it’s hard to believe he was making the sausage on his own. Even so, he has been identified by those in the know as an important figure in the horse-trading demimonde that flourished in the smoke-filled backrooms of Grammyland. His departure changes the game, even if the other behind-the-scenes operators abide.


Mason has two big strikes against him. The first is his role in the defenestration of his predecessor, Deb Dugan, who was rewarded for her diligent muck-raking with termination, character assassination and a protracted court battle that has ended with a settlement predicated on an NDA. The second was Grammy’s unforgivable shutout of The Weeknd, whose cultural, musical and commercial impact should have occasioned a blizzard of nominations and hardware galore. HMJ played out the Dugan saga as an Academy apparatchik and was blandly dismissive of The Weeknd controversy—implying that a megastar with the year’s biggest song somehow couldn’t scrounge up the requisite votes—which was not only suspicious but, for someone so inherently musical, weirdly tone-deaf.

We’d been sounding the alarm about Grammy corruption for years, and for the longest time nobody seemed to believe it. Even when Neil Portnow told us on the record about the Secret Nominating Committees winnowing the lists after first-round votes. Even when we turned our flashlight on the skullduggery in Nashville. We pointed out the lack of transparency in the process time and again—and Freimuth’s role in whatever covert rituals transpired. Finally, this year, HMJ got rid of the Secret Committees.

So, is Freimuth’s ouster another step in the direction of the real systemic change of the awards system that Mason has promised? If it is, he has his work cut out for him. We don’t know how many Freimuths-in-waiting are biding their time and collecting favors in those smoke-filled rooms.


As far as we’re aware, the Academy bylaws still permit the Executive Committee to change the rules as they see fit—allowing for “review” by players authorized by the Board of Trustees. Such review has largely been reserved to deal with “egregious omissions,” though if The Weeknd’s omission wasn’t egregious, we don’t know what is. In any event, until those rules change, the Executive Committee and the Board appear to retain carte blanche to alter the process whenever and however they wish.

CEO Mason has consolidated his power and brought in his own team, notably tapping Valeisha Butterfield Jones and Panos A. Panay as Co-Presidents. But the Executive Committee is still peopled with Academy lifers who are marginal to the industry—who are these bureaucrats to judge the merits of The Weeknd, Drake, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake?

Now Mason, an All-American and a storied competitor, steps to the plate again. He’s promised to swing for the fences, but those two big strikes weigh heavily on the minds of everyone in the stands. Is a game-changing play ahead? Or will there be no joy in Grammyville?

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