The Grammys don’t have “a race problem at all”, says Grammys boss
By Andy Malt | Published on Thursday 16 February 2017
Grammy Awards boss Neil Portnow has said that he doesn’t “think there’s a race problem at all” with the ceremony. This follows criticism that Adele was handed the Album Of The Year award over Beyonce – not least from Adele herself.
Speaking to Pitchfork, he said: “I don’t think there’s a race problem at all. Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So when we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity – it’s the 14,000 members of the Academy. They have to qualify in order to be members, which means they have to have recorded and released music, and so they are sort of the experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry. It’s always hard to create objectivity out of something that’s inherently subjective, which is what art and music is about. We do the best we can. We have 84 categories where we recognise all kinds of music, from across all spectrums”.
Of course, the make up of voters for award ceremonies has been a topic of conversation in recent years. Both the Oscars and the BRIT Awards have made moves to improve diversity among the groups who choose their winners, precisely because the prizes have tended to skew white. Since Sunday’s Grammy awards, many have pointed out that only ten black artists have ever won the Album Of The Year prize at the ceremony, and none since Herbie Hancock in 2008. But the diversity of voters is not a problem for the Grammys, insists Portnow.
“We don’t have that kind of an issue in that same fashion”, he said. “But we are always working on increase diversity in membership, whether it’s ethnicity, gender, genre, or age. In order to maintain our relevance, we have to be refreshing all the time and we have to be doing that across the board”.
One person who would disagree with that is Frank Ocean, who refused to enter his two 2016 albums into this year’s Grammys in protest against poor diversity. “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated”, said Ocean last year.
Again, Portnow disagrees: “[Ocean] made a conscious decision to not enter his music in the process. I think that’s a personal choice. Not everybody likes or wants to be part of every organisation or awards process. I respect that. What I’ll say about Frank is he did have his earlier album out at an early stage of his career, we were delighted that it was entered, we were delighted that he was a Grammy winner, we were delighted to have him on our stage, which gave him a platform very early in his career. That’s something we’re proud of, and down the line he may feel differently. Artists change their opinion. I don’t begrudge his choice at all and we’ll see what the future brings”.