Grammys got new rules: Changes made to Best New Artist, R&B, rap and Latin categories, but is it enough?

On June 10 the often embattled recording academy announced changes to the Grammys that will take effect at the upcoming 2021 awards. Those amendments include a change in Best New Artist eligibility requirements and tweaks to existing categories in R&B, rap and Latin fields. Do you think those moves are a step in the right direction for an organization often accused of being out of step?

Best New Artist rules are often in flux since the evolution of the music industry amid changing technologies and trends makes the already subjective category even more confusing. In recent years the academy has placed a limit on the amount of music an artist can have released to be considered a new artist (no more than 30 singles/tracks or three albums). But in an era of LPs and mixtapes, it’s possible for artists to exceed that before truly achieving widespread prominence. So the academy has gotten rid of that requirement.

Instead, “screening committees will be charged with determining whether the artist had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year.” But that means that the category will be even more subjective since each prospective artist’s eligibility will be open to interpretation. It remains to be seen which artists will benefit from the screening committee’s judgements, and which will be disqualified.

Other changes are coming in the way genre music is categorized. Best Urban Contemporary Album will be renamed Best Progressive R&B Album for a “more accurate definition to describe the merit or characteristics of music compositions or performances themselves within the genre of R&B.” Though that’s a lot like the previous name for the category, Best Contemporary R&B Album, which differentiated music with modern sonic and hip-hop influences from more traditional R&B recordings.

Best Rap/Sung Performance will now be Best Melodic Rap Performance, which “is intended to recognize solo and collaborative performances containing elements of rap and melody over modern production. This performance requires a strong and clear presence of melody combined with rap cadence, and is inclusive of dialects, lyrics or performance elements from non-rap genres.”

That category was particularly contentious in recent years: Drake won it for his hit “Hotline Bling,” but he objected to even being placed in that category, arguing that the song wasn’t rap. Was the recording academy pigeon-holing Black artists into categories most associated with Black musicians?

And a couple of Latin categories are getting a shakeup. Best Latin Pop Album is now Best Latin Pop or Urban Album and Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album will now be Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album to better differentiate albums “that utilize a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content, and/or musical presentation to create a sensibility that reflects the broad spectrum of Latin music style and culture.”

Lastly, after former academy president Deborah Dugan accused the nomination review committees of rigging the process to benefit artists they have a personal stake in, there will now be an effort to combat that with a conflict of interest disclosure form that must be filled out to determine whether an academy member will be allowed to participate in the nominating process. Expecting members to self-report their conflicts seems dubious, but perhaps the rule will have real teeth since “failure to voluntarily disclose any conflict of interest will result in the person being barred from future nominations review committee participation.”

What do you think of these changes? And what else should the academy do to promote fairness in their awards process?

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