Grammys: CEO Harvey Mason Jr. on Diversity, Next Year’s Show, and Why They Need Those New Categories

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Mason opens up about changes at the Recording Academy — and what still needs to be done

THE 66TH GRAMMY Awards will mark CEO Harvey Mason Jr.’s fourth at the helm since he took over following chief executive Deborah Dugan’s abrupt firing just weeks before the 2020 ceremonies. It’s been a time of change, as Mason and the organization have focused on diversifying their ranks and better representing women and marginalized groups. 

The results so far suggest a work in progress. The academy has touted new, diverse membership classes each year, and is now nearly 80 percent of the way to its goal of adding 2,500 women to its rolls by 2025, Mason tells Rolling Stone. (Those figures reflect the Academy’s membership as of September 2022. The Recording Academy is expected to provide an update on its membership data this month.)

But whether it was the Weeknd’s 2021 snub — and his ensuing boycott of the organization — or Beyoncé once again losing out in the Big Four categories last year, the nominations and wins have continued to feed criticism that however much they change, the Grammys remain out of step.

As the academy looks ahead to February’s show, Rolling Stone caught up with Mason to weigh in about the three new Grammy categories, the massive number of awards the academy bestows, and diversifying the voter base. 

We’ve seen some major changes to the awards show in the past couple of years as the pandemic required the Grammys to experiment with the presentation. What should we expect for next year’s show?
The pandemic did cause some adjustments. But also, the new producers of the show have made a big difference. And the new culture at the academy is starting to change the way we look at things, the show being one of them. We’re back at Crypto [the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles] this year, which is always good. We’ve been to Vegas, we’ve had the Covid audience, we’re looking forward to having a full audience again. We’re excited about our new categories, the global nature of what we’re doing around those categories and diversity there, which is really, really important.

You brought up the new categories: Best African Music Performance, Best Alternative Jazz Album, and Best Pop Dance Record. There are nearly 100 categories now. Why were these additions needed?
We want to make sure we’re honoring music and music people accurately and fairly. As much as we don’t want to have thousands of awards, because it does dilute the unique nature of it, if there’s a community of music people that are feeling there’s not a place for them, then it’s our job to make sure we fix that.

Mason Jr. in 2021 YURI HASEGAWA/REDUX

As the academy looks ahead to February’s show, Rolling Stone caught up with Mason to weigh in about the three new Grammy categories, the massive number of awards the academy bestows, and diversifying the voter base.

We’ve seen some major changes to the awards show in the past couple of years as the pandemic required the Grammys to experiment with the presentation. What should we expect for next year’s show?
The pandemic did cause some adjustments. But also, the new producers of the show have made a big difference. And the new culture at the academy is starting to change the way we look at things, the show being one of them. We’re back at Crypto [the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles] this year, which is always good. We’ve been to Vegas, we’ve had the Covid audience, we’re looking forward to having a full audience again. We’re excited about our new categories, the global nature of what we’re doing around those categories and diversity there, which is really, really important. 

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You brought up the new categories: Best African Music Performance, Best Alternative Jazz Album, and Best Pop Dance Record. There are nearly 100 categories now. Why were these additions needed? 
We want to make sure we’re honoring music and music people accurately and fairly. As much as we don’t want to have thousands of awards, because it does dilute the unique nature of it, if there’s a community of music people that are feeling there’s not a place for them, then it’s our job to make sure we fix that.

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Some critics question whether these new categories could placate artists from lesser-represented groups if they aren’t being recognized in the higher-profile categories. 
These awards do not exclude them from being considered in another category. What I’d like to see is music being honored and where it best fits. This award is not set up to placate anyone, it’s set up to honor and celebrate more people rather than less. 

I trust our voters. I don’t believe people are just randomly voting. I’m not sure that’s how it has always been, but we have a respectable, relevant voting body that is going to listen to the music and determine what was the best in that particular category.

The academy has been very public for years about its efforts to diversify its membership. Walk me through the voter base now and how you’ve looked to change it.
We made a massive commitment to rethink how we constituted our membership and how we brought people in as members. Rather than waiting for people to ask to join, we’ve made a conscious effort to reach into different genres of music to say we need more of X or Y. We also wanted to increase our Black membership. Compared to the industry, we’re fairly underrepresented in the Black music genres. I’m excited about this next class, and as we start getting the data in, we’ll be able to have an update on what our percentages look like. But they’re absolutely trending in a positive way. The other thing we’ve done was we requalified all of our members over the last three to four years, so that everyone has to have had a recent credit that will justify them being voting members. We wanted to reestablish that this group of 11,000 to 12,000 voters were actually all professional peers within the music industry.

Source: The Rollingstone

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