Did you know that a secret committee for the Grammys is in place to override voters if they choose to give key awards to Black artists like Beyoncé?
We’d heard rumblings of the sort before, but Victor Willis — the original lead singer of the Village People — put the committee on blast in a nasty letter sent to the President of the Recording Academy demanding they ‘come clean’ over the groups existence. The group has allegedly been operating since Lionel Richie beat Bruce Springsteen for the 1985 Album of the Year.
According to Willis, the committee’s purpose is to “override the decision of Grammy voters in the event the select committee does not like who the Grammy voter has chosen” for the 4 top awards.
He goes on to strongly suggest a racial element, saying, “The question is how many African Americans are on that committee?” He says in the letter, “If certain people at the Grammys don’t like who the voteres have chosen, a Grammy committee will simply override the voters and subsequently select who they think should win. Like Adele, maybe?”
We did some research, and it does appear there is a secret committee, but from what we can gather, the committee is designed to knock out embarrassing nominations — like, say, Milli Vanilli. Once, however, the nominations are locked, the voters have the final say … at least that’s what we’ve found.
We reached out to the Recording Academy for comment … so far no word back.
This isn’t the first time this has been alleged. Back in 2001, Slate wrote a piece on the very same committee.
The Grammys, back in the 1990s, took a different tack. To its credit, the group had spent a decade concertedly trying to create a more youthful and vibrant membership, this after Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down won record of the year over Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain. But that didn’t work. In 1995, for example, Tony Bennett’s Unplugged album won record of the year over a markedly undistinguished slate that included a Three Tenors album, a novelty outing whose nomination enraged the academy’s classical membership. The youthful reformers lost out—and the nefarious Michael Greene, the longtime president of the academy, put Plan B into place.
Plan B established a committee whose members’ names are not made public, supposedly to protect them from record-industry pressure. The group is allowed to overrule the membership’s nominations for its four biggest awards: album of the year, record of the year, song of the year, and best new artist. They take out nominations that might embarrass the academy—one official has hinted that “Macarena” might otherwise have been nominated one year—and replace them with artists they think are more deserving or, more importantly, who will bring in more viewers to the TV show.
The implementation of Plan B came in the mid-1990s, but didn’t get much attention. Four years later, the Los Angeles Times’s formidable Robert Hilburn got one of the secret committee members to talk about the group’s duties off the record. But in the years since, this is almost never mentioned in coverage of the Grammys. This year, for example, I found one passing reference to the process in an L.A. Times blog. If the Oscars tried to pull off something like this, Hollywood would be up in arms.
So, much like the election an artist can win the popular vote and still get cheated thanks to the existence of a musical electoral college.
Update: A spokesperson for The Recording Academy has issued a statement:
The Recording Academy has always been completely upfront and transparent about the fact that we have had Nominations Review Committees since 1989, which are made up of GRAMMY voting members. These committees have absolutely no say over the final ballot and do not determine the actual GRAMMY winners. The full 13,000 voting members of The Recording Academy chose the GRAMMY winner for Album Of The Year, as the result of a democratic, one-person, one-vote system. The committees were introduced in the first place to help level the playing field and provide independent, emerging and lesser known artists with greater opportunities for inclusion. The reason that the committee members’ names are not disclosed is to ensure fairness and neutrality. If their identities were made public, they could be lobbied. This is a safeguard to protect the integrity of the process.
Yeah…okay. You can read Victor’s full letter below.