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Back and forth continues between the US Recording Academy and its ousted CEO as the Grammy Weekend goes through the motions

By | Published on Monday 27 January 2020

Deborah Dugan

Plenty of awards were presented and artists celebrated as the various Grammy events took place in LA this weekend. Although, with another back and forth between organiser the Recording Academy and its ousted CEO, the controversies of the last week remained big news, with Diddy putting the Academy on notice during a speech on Saturday nigh

That said, by the time the main televised awards show kicked off last night, the tragic news about the death of legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash had arguably put everyone in a much more reflective mood. Not least because the awards took place in LA’s Staple’s Center, home to the team with which Bryant spent his entire career.

Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs received the Salute To Industry Icons Award at a pre-Grammy gala on Saturday evening. During a lengthy speech he referenced the explosive fallout between the Recording Academy and its former CEO Deborah Dugan.

She accused the Academy of corruption, harassment, misogyny and vote-fixing in a legal filing last week. The Academy’s board has been busy denying all those allegations ever since, insisting that Dugan was pushed out of the CEO role because of a complaint about her management style.

The whole Academy v Dugan battle has also put yet another spotlight on accusations that the music industry organisation and its annual awards still have a big diversity problem. And while Dugan’s legal filing focused mainly on gender diversity, some of her supporters have also again called out the Academy and the Grammys about other kinds of diversity too.

That was the focus of Combs’ speech which, while declaring there’s “an elephant in the room”, didn’t go into any great detail about Dugan’s specific allegations. Instead he spoke about the need for more diversity across the board, at the Grammys, and beyond.

“The last few days I’ve been conflicted”, he said. “I’m being honoured by the industry that I love, the family that I love. But there’s an elephant in the room, and it’s not just about the Grammys. There’s discrimination and injustice everywhere, at an all-time high”.

He went on: “Truth be told, hip hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be. So right now, in this current situation, it’s not a revelation. This thing’s been going on. It’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film, going on in sports and going on around the world. And for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now”.

“I’m officially starting the clock”, he then declared, addressing the Academy more directly. “You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together. We need the artists to take back control, we need transparency, we need diversity. This is the room that has the power to make the changes that need to be made. They have to make the changes for us. They’re a non-profit organisation that’s supposed to protect the welfare of the musical community. That’s what it says on the mission statement. That’s the truth. They work for us”.

Noting that achieving change also requires the involvement of the wider music community, he added: “So sign me up. I’m here to help make a difference and help us have a positive outcome. I believe all of my brothers and sisters out there will be willing to work on getting this right. Because we just want it right”.

Perhaps aware that the Diddy clock was now ticking, the chair of the Academy’s board, Harvey Mason Jr, sent an email to the entire Academy membership on Sunday morning insisting that the organisation was willing to change and to become more diverse.

In the main he outlined initiatives that are based on proposals recently made by the Academy’s diversity task force, which was set up last time the Grammys Weekend was dominated by a diversity debate back in 2018. After Dugan’s departure, members of that task force last week called on the Academy to urgently implement their recommendations.

In his email, Mason also said that the Academy had a duty to be at the frontline of pushing for change and more diversity, “to build a system that continuously evolves with our changing society – a system where every artist, no matter who they are, feels welcomed and supported. That’s what it will take to not just survive but thrive in an industry that’s transforming as quickly as ours”.

However, if Mason thought that his well-timed email would mean that the Academy – if not having the last word in this dispute – would at least have the last word before the main Grammy’s show began, he was wrong. Dugan’s lawyers quickly responded arguing that the email was “all smoke and mirrors”, because the initiatives he was bragging about had already been put in place under the now exiled CEO.

Mason remains convinced he is part of the solution to the Recording Academy’s current woes. But, Dugan’s reps argue, he’s part of the problem. “If the past ten days have shown anything, it is that the current Chair is not the appropriate individual to effectuate meaningful change at the Academy”, they declared.

“This is the same chair that put Ms Dugan on leave because she was calling for increased diversity and the end to self-dealing and conflicts of interest. This is the same Chair that has leaked attack after attack on Ms Dugan to the media, and done everything in his power to defame and disparage her. In fact, in the very same statement that Mr Mason just issued calling for change, he makes additional attacks against Ms Dugan”.

If the Academy is serious about change, Team Dugan argued, it needs “an independent and qualified professional Chair and board”, an end to the committees that make the final decisions on key Grammy Awards, and a “truly independent investigation into the board’s relationships, self-dealings, and use of public non-profit monies”.

Oh, and “the board must immediately reinstate Ms Dugan as the CEO of the Recording Academy to oversee and effectuate such changes”.

With Grammys 2020 now done and dusted, it remains to be seen if the daily back and forth between Dugan and the Academy continues. And what changes are now actually made.