Harvey Mason jr., the Recording Academy’s CEO, is pleased overall with this year’s Grammy nominations, which were announced on Friday (Nov. 10), but he’s aware that some, especially in the Latin and country fields, will be disappointed.
No Latin artists made the Big Four categories – album, record and song of the year plus best new artist. And in a startling move, there are only three nominations, rather than the standard five, for best música urbana album. That’s because Grammy rules specify that “each category shall have at least 40 distinct artist entries. If a category receives between 25 and 39 entries, only three recordings will receive nominations in that year.” Best música urbana album just missed that threshold – it had 37 entries.
Such country format leaders as Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and Lainey Wilson were bypassed in the Big Four categories. Country’s only representation in the Big Four is the presence of Jelly Roll and the Americana duo The War and Treaty in the best new artist category.
Mason knows the Academy needs to do better in outreach to those communities – and said as much in this interview with Billboard on the eve of the announcement of the nominations.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What impressed you about the nominations?
I’m really excited about the diversity – all the different genres. These nominations are inspirational and aspirational. A lot of times you see people on this list that the next generation of music people is going to look at and say, “Oh, that person looks like me.” Or “I like that type of music and I make that kind of music. Maybe I can be on the Grammy stage one day.”
Every media outlet will report on snubs and surprises. What surprised you?
I’m pleasantly surprised about the different types of things we’re seeing. [For example], the different types of [people who were nominated for] songwriter of the year, non-classical and producer of the year, non-classical.
Some of the things that also surprised me that weren’t huge positives — I felt that we didn’t have as many Latin artists and creators as I would have liked to have seen.
I agree with you about Latin music in the Big Four. And country, too. I was shocked that Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” wasn’t up for record of the year.
And that song, and country in general, had such a great year. [There were] so many really good records and great artists, so it was a surprise.
Are you determined to bring in more country and Latin voters? Do you see it as a weak spot where you need to do better?
We always feel like we can do better. We have to do more outreach in Latin communities, making sure that we’re representing the music accurately. We’re hearing from them things that we can do; making sure we have the right amount of membership and representation. Same goes for country. So, we have to make sure that we’re getting the right membership, which is something we have to talk about every year. When we look at the results of any given year, we always look and see where we can do better; where do we need to balance; where do we need to grow and evolve our membership. … It’s something that we pay close attention to, so we’ll continue to do work on our membership.
I was surprised Lainey Wilson wasn’t nominated for best new artist. She has won seven CMA Awards in the last two years.
I listen to a lot of the music that you’re talking about and I’m a huge fan of a lot of these records. I totally wish more people were nominated. There are great country artists I wish had been nominated, but we have a certain finite number of slots. I really like our 12,000 voters and the way they’re approaching this. They’re really voting with their ears. But they pick what they pick. I get my one vote, I can tell you that. I probably voted for some other things that maybe didn’t make it.
How did you think the drop from 10 nominees to eight in each of the Big Four categories worked out?
I supported it. We’ve gone from five to eight to 10 and back to eight [trying to hit the right number].
Do you like eight better?
I’m not going to say I like it better. I’m going to say I’m happy with it at eight. I think it will make for a great final round of voting. It’s something we’ll continue to look at.
Did you take a peek to see what finished No. 9 and No. 10 in the voting in the Big Four categories – that you missed out on by going with eight nominees?
I didn’t. I don’t want to torture myself. [laughs] I would be so frustrated [if they were records that would have been good to have.]
SZA is the leader in the nominations and also landed her first album of the year nod as a lead artist. What do you make of her ascendency?
It’s really spectacular. She obviously had a banner year. Extremely, hyper-creative project. She’s extremely talented. The music really resonated with our voters. I’m excited for her.
I was also happy to see Miley Cyrus do well, with nominations for record, album and song of the year. I don’t think anybody took her seriously 15 years ago, but she has proved herself a unique talent and unique singer.
Something about what she’s done this year definitely moved the voters. I’m really happy for her. This is going to be a really interesting shoot-out here in the next go-round. There are some great artists, great records, so we’re going to be excited to see what happens.
I was also surprised that “All My Life” by Lil Durk featuring J. Cole wasn’t up for record of the year. It’s the kind of hip-hop record that Grammy voters love.
I think the type of records that Grammy voters like is probably evolving as our membership is evolving. And we really intentionally got into a lot of communities – Black music, hip-hop. The membership has really evolved over the last two or three years. So, I think the outcomes in those types of music is going to continue to change and evolve. It will be hard to determine what is going to be a Grammy style of hip-hop record.
A lot of people will be surprised that there weren’t enough entries for best música urbana album to have five nominees in the category.
It felt like the dominance of Latin music is continuing. It had another massive year. Maybe there’s something to be said [for the fact] that the Latin Grammys are doing really, really well. Maybe some of the Latin creatives are feeling that they’re excited to be represented there as well.
Are you saying that the Latin Grammys have taken some of the shine off the Latin categories in the regular Grammys?
I wouldn’t say they’ve taken some of the shine. I would just say there’s probably a focus on the Latin music people to submit music in the Latin Grammys.
Victoria Monét has nominations in two of the Big Four categories. I would guess that there are going to be a lot of Internet searches on Friday so people can find out more about her. She’s probably the least broadly-known nominee in the major categories.
She’s extremely talented. She will be somebody who will come out of this with a whole new audience. This is what is cool about it. Sometimes the Academy celebrates these artists that no one knows about. I believe that to be a really cool feature of these awards and this process. People are going to learn about a great new artist and maybe even discover their favorite new artist.
Like Samara Joy winning best new artist last year.
There are always those stories were someone is like “Wait, who is that?” and then the next thing you know they’re playing that music as they’re driving in their car.
Barbie music did very well, with two of the four song of the year nominations and four of the five nominations for best song written for visual media.
Great artists. Great writers. You’re seeing some incredible names there on those records, both on the production side, writing side and artist side, so it’s exciting.
The only down note is that Barbie The Album was passed over for an album of the year nod. It’s really hard for a soundtrack to crack that category.
You could make an argument that it could be there based on how many great songs and all the great music that came off of it. But that’s how voting works: 12,000 voters listen and they decide.
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