Drake and The Weeknd already don’t rock with the Grammys, so the possibility of their unauthorized AI collaboration winning an award likely won’t mend any fences.
Ghostwriter, the shadowy creator of the AI-generated song that went viral in April, is seeking the music industry’s most coveted award for a fake duet — and according to Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. in an interview with The New York Times, “it’s absolutely eligible because it was written by a human.”
A representative for Ghostwriter confirmed to the Times that “Heart on My Sleeve” was submitted for best rap song and song of the year, awards that are given to a song’s writers, as opposed to its performers. In this case, the lyrics were written by Ghostwriter, despite the computer-generated vocal performances.
But even if the track is considered eligible from a creative standpoint, Grammy rules require that songs have “generation distribution,” meaning “the broad release of a recording, available nationwide via brick-and-mortar stores, third-party online retailers and/or streaming services.” After the song initially popped up on YouTube and streaming services, it disappeared as Universal Music apparently sent takedown notices to the DSPs. It has since been re-uploaded by unofficial third parties across the internet and streaming services. Considering the copyright issues, commercial viability for “Heart on My Sleeve” is an uphill battle. Per the Times, “Ghostwriter’s representative said they were aware of the commercial availability requirement.”
Representatives for Drake and the Weeknd did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Mason clarified the Academy’s new rules on AI earlier this summer, with the Grammy chief telling Variety in July, “We’re not going to be giving a nomination or an award to an AI computer or someone who just prompted AI. That’s the distinction that we’re trying to make. It’s the human award highlighting excellence, driven by human creativity.”
That came after the Recording Academy addressed AI in a lengthy new rule that said, among other things, that “a work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any Categories.” But the use of assistive AI is not wholly forbidden, as in the case of Paul McCartney cleaning up an old John Lennon vocal track with computer technology in a “new” Beatles song.
“If three or four Beatles are singing on the record, and one of the voices [has been sonically enhanced by] AI, it’s still a live human performance with a more than di minimis amount by the Beatles,” Mason said. “Therefore it would be eligible.”
Mason explained to Variety: “What we intended to say was that material using AI can be submitted, but the human portion of the of the composition, or the performance, is the only portion that can be awarded or considered for a Grammy Award. So if an AI modeling system or app built a track — ‘wrote’ lyrics and a melody — that would not be eligible for a composition award. But if a human writes a track and AI is used to voice-model, or create a new voice, or use somebody else’s voice, the performance would not be eligible, but the writing of the track and the lyric or top line would be absolutely eligible for an award.”
He went on: “The provision states that as long as there’s more than a de minimis amount of human involvement in the portion of the creativity that is being evaluated for nomination, then it will still be considered for a nomination. So if you had a rap record where there was eight bars of AI rap, but the rest of the song was human rapping and there’s a human chorus, that would still be eligible for performance award. There would not be an award given to the AI created piece, of course.”
Mason previously told Variety that he had spoken with “Heart on My Sleeve” creator Ghostwriter, calling him “very forward looking” and “creative.”
“From my perspective, this has been an exercise for him to try and establish a dialogue and create some awareness around the possibilities and what are going to be some of the potholes,” Mason said in July. “I hate to put statements in his mouth, but my feeling is that he understood exactly what he was doing — he knew this was going to be controversial.”