"We didn't want to wait, and that's not something we've always been known for," he said, acknowledging the stick-in-the-mud reputation of a group that made waves nearly two years ago when it ousted Mason's predecessor, Deborah Dugan, after she raised concerns about voting irregularities and a toxic boys'-club atmosphere. "But it's something we're proud of now. We're listening, we're learning, we're asking."
Indeed, this slate of nominees is also the first in decades, the academy says, not shaped by secretive committees of unnamed insiders that historically oversaw — and sometimes amended — voters' first-round choices. Following a public outcry sparked by Dugan and the Weeknd, the latter of whom accused the academy of being "corrupt" in a viral tweet after his blockbuster "After Hours" album failed to score a single nod, the group announced in April that it had eliminated its so-called nominations review committees and pledged to run a clean vote going forward. (The Weeknd has said he declined in protest to submit his latest work for Grammys consideration, though he is up for the melodic rap performance award with his appearance on West's song "Hurricane.")
Mason said the change elicited "mixed emotions" among academy members, some of whom felt the committees "had great purpose in making sure there was balance in the music represented and that it wasn't just a popularity contest." He added that this year's results "have started to prove our hypothesis" that the academy — long known as a bastion of old-white-guy values — is successfully expanding and diversifying its membership; it says it invited more than 2,700 recording professionals to join this year and that nearly half were women, half people of color and more than half people under the age of 40.
Mason's hunch bears out in some categories — rap album, for instance, which at the 63rd Grammys was filled by past-their-prime MCs but this time recognizes work by vital acts such as Drake, J. Cole and Tyler, the Creator. The country album category feels similarly well informed, with wide-ranging nominations for Mickey Guyton, Miranda Lambert, Brothers Osborne, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. (Morgan Wallen, the young country superstar caught on video early this year using the N-word, received no nominations.)
Yet plenty of go-to Grammy acts fared as well in these nominations as in recent years: As half of Silk Sonic with Anderson .Paak, Bruno Mars is up for his sixth record of the year award — only Frank Sinatra and Beyoncé have been nominated more times — while Eilish could become the first artist to win that category three ceremonies in a row. Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters both earned multiple nominations in the rock categories; Jay-Z, with nods for three awards for his appearances on songs by Kanye West and DMX, is now the most-nominated individual in Grammys history with 83.
Other proven faves were only lightly decorated, though, including Swift, who earned just a single nomination, and Kacey Musgraves, whose song "Camera Roll" was nominated for two country awards but whose LP "Star-Crossed" — the follow-up to 2018's Grammy-winning "Golden Hour" — was overlooked in the general categories. (Last month the president of Musgraves' record company set off a spirited discussion of the academy's taxonomical processes when she wrote a letter to Mason complaining that "Star-Crossed" had been barred from competition in the country album category ostensibly because it wasn't country enough.)
Adele, a reliable success story at the Grammys anytime she's present, released her new album, "30," after the eligibility window of Sept. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.
As for January's ceremony, Mason said he's "excited about having audience members back in seats" after the 63rd Grammys, which in accordance with COVID-19 protocols combined live and prerecorded performances in a crowd-free setting in and around the L.A. Convention Center.
"We'll do something to make sure artists are protected," Mason said. "But it's definitely going to be a different show than the last one — closer to the show that we've had in the past."
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