Nominations for the 2018 Grammy Awards were launched this morning, and certain categories were markedly more diverse in their selections. "Despacito" became the first song in Spanish to be nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, each main artist nominated for Recording of the Year was a person of color, and the list for the best Album of the Year does not contain a single White male artist for the first time in the history of the Grammys. (Sorry, Ed Sheeran.) In short, the nominations are incredibly diverse. Even Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow noticed, saying Billboard that it is "a wonderful reflection on our organization and how relevant and in touch with our voting members".
So, how did this happen? A change to digital voting and a renewal of the online Grammy platform are probably contributing factors. Grammy nominees are decided by voting members: professionals in the music industry who have creative or technical credits on at least six commercial tracks in a physical music release, or 12 in a digital album. They are not just big name tag guys. They are composers, tour artists and engineers. And, there are only about 13,000 of them. So we discussed how these changes could have such a dramatic impact on the current crop of Grammy nominees.
Micah Singleton: In June, The Grammys finally switched to online voting, allowing more than its 13,000 members to vote to block to participate. If you are a touring artist or a successful producer or composer, you are most likely not sitting at home waiting for a vote by mail to arrive, which is the way the Grammys were held until this year. Now that more people have the possibility to vote, we see the results: a field much more diverse than ever, especially in the main categories. Dani, you're a new member of the Recording Academy. How have the changes affected you?
Dani Deahl: Micah, you were actually the one who pushed me to apply to be a Grammy member with the right to vote! Once my application was accepted, I realized how much opportunity there is for the voting members to make a difference. Only about 13,000 of us decide who gets these important prizes. I was not aware either until you told me that this was the first year that voting members could cast their votes online. Since many voting members are on the road most of the time, I imagine it would be a great annoyance to make your voice heard. Do you think the Academy saw online voting as a form of diversification, or was it just catching up with technology?
MS: I think they were both. It seems that The Academy got tired of the constant reaction after the less than diverse group of winners that emerged almost every year. A hip-hop artist has not won the album of the year in 13 years (Outkast), and a black woman has not won since 1999 (Lauryn Hill), despite the existence of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Solange, and a host of other black women who have released great albums. Even SZA, whose album Ctrl was my favorite in 2017 did not receive the Album of the Year nomination, so there is still a lot to do.
A reminder that a black woman has not won the album of the year in almost 20 years despite the existence of Beyoncé, Mariah, Solange, Alicia, Rih
– Micah Singleton (@MicahSingleton) 13 September 2017
Online voting also means that artists, composers and producers who are on the way creating musical culture can vote with ease. Imagine if you could vote in presidential elections online, instead of having to queue or send a ballot by mail. Attendance would skyrocket, and the same is true for Grammys. They removed the barricades to vote, and the first result of the new system makes me optimistic.
D D : In practice, what you are describing with votes on paper prevented or discouraged a lot of people voted, and generally they were not the most established members of the industry. In addition, Grammy Vice President Bill Freimuth said there were many other problems with the ballots, apart from the inconvenience of sending them by mail. Ballots were often filled incorrectly or members voted in categories in which they were not authorized. "In this way, the software will not allow them to send them incorrectly," Freimuth told Variety . "Finally, in the same place, voters will be able to listen or see all the nominated recordings or videos, or look at the nominees for the design of the package, In general, it allows a more informed vote than the voting based on the recognition of names, popularity, graphics and things like that. "
Previously, did he have to find the material he was voting for … on his own? Who has time for that? Any! Most people probably voted based on the small range of music they had already heard or the names they recognized. How much have you corrected this new system? Do this year's nominees more accurately reflect albums that are "the best" than previous years?
MS: I do not think changing to online voting has changed how people vote; it simply made the votes of some people less weight, in a certain sense. Now, someone who does not listen to rap or someone who does not know rock music will not necessarily have a huge influence on the genre, if the people who are more informed have more access. And sure, it could be said that the members always had the possibility to vote, but they did not do it in the past. This year's nominations are the clearest indicator of that. Childish Gambino was nominated for the album of the year, and deservedly so. But do you think that an album part of funk and part of a rapper's neo-soul had the opportunity to get the highest nomination last year? I do not.
There have been so many flaws, especially on the album of the year, in the last decade, and this is the first time that there does not seem to be much supervision (in addition to Ctrl ). That is progress. The final results may be a different story, but we will not know until the Grammys in January.
Let's talk about white men. How surprised are you that this is the first time in history that a white man has not been nominated for Album of the Year?
D D : I'm shocked, and also … no shocked? Every time something like this happens, there is a duality in my head of "wow, this is amazing!" And also "wow, this just happened now." There is so much weight in seeing the people with whom you identify at the highest level. Some might think that the Grammys do not mean much, but they are absolutely influential and a reflection of the culture. They make races.
Notice something about the 2018 Grammy nominations for the album of the year?
Childish Gambino: Awaken, My Love
Jay Z: 4:44
Kendrick Lamar: Damn
Bruno Mars: 24K Magic
– Dani Deahl (@danideahl) November 28, 2017
I'm then used to see lists of nominees for all awards populated by men whites, so the album of the year caught my attention immediately. Also, it is not about not seeing white men as much as seeing different groups of people receiving praise for their work, people who might have been ignored previously. Members with voting rights are not dark figures pulling strings behind a curtain. Sure, some members are very powerful people in the industry, but many of them are like me: musicians who tour and have singles and live late into the night, return flights.
It was relatively easy for executives and producers to vote in the previous system, but not for someone like me. Now, the people who really contribute to the cultural changes are those who most: tour musicians, new producers and composers, etc., have access to participate in ways that never existed before. This year's list is a direct reflection of that. When you make a system easier to use for everyone, everyone wins.