Although it was widely believed that Beyoncé would finally win Album of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards, Adele wound up going home with the night’s highest honor, and accusations of racism quickly ensued.
Despite statistics that suggest there could be an issue, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow does not believe the Grammys has a racism problem.
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Neil shared his thoughts on the matter.
No, 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 recognize all kinds of music, from across all spectrums.
We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen. It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year. And that is going to be very subjective. That’s what we ask our members to do, even in the ballots. We ask that they not pay attention to sales and marketing and popularity and charts. You have to listen to the music. So of the 14,000 voters, they listen, they make up their minds, and then they vote.
Now here’s the other interesting part of the process, and we stand 100 percent behind the process: It’s a democratic vote by majority. So somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote. It could be that tight.
Neil also discussed big names like Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West choosing to skip this year’s ceremony.
We have to ask: do you think the Grammys has a racism issue, or is the ceremony simply out of touch?