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Diversity taskforce calls for “urgent” implementation of its proposals, as Recording Academy defends its Grammy voting process

By | Published on Friday 24 January 2020

Grammy Awards

As the big bust up between the US Recording Academy and its ousted CEO Deborah Dugan continues, the people who led the music industry organisation’s diversity taskforce have issued their own statement. Although not specifically commenting on Dugan’s numerous allegations against the Academy, the taskforce reps say that the fallout following her ousting reinforces how “important and urgent” their proposed reforms are.

The back and forth continues between Academy bosses and Dugan, with the latter appearing on US TV show ‘Good Morning America’, while the former issued a statement defending the Grammy Awards nominations process. This all began last week, of course, when the Academy said it had put Dugan on “administrative leave” after a staff member accused the CEO of bullying. Dugan responded with a 46 page legal document containing numerous allegations of corruption and misogyny against the Academy and its board.

Dugan’s appointment as CEO last year was seen as an attempt by the Academy to demonstrate it was ready to instigate reforms after eighteen months of criticism over diversity issues at the organisation and its annual Grammy Awards.

Although the Academy had faced years of criticism for failing to represent and celebrate all corners of the music community, calls for a more diverse approach escalated after Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow, clumsily responded to criticism about the lack of female winners and performers at the 2018 Grammy Awards.

It was following those remarks that the Academy set up a diversity taskforce to review its operations and make proposals for reforms. That taskforce was headed up by lawyer Tina Tchen, also the current CEO of the Times Up campaign that seeks to end sexual harassment in the wider entertainment industry. The taskforce team have made various presentations to the Academy board, including making eighteen specific recommendations last month.

In a statement yesterday, that team said “we want to speak in our own voice about our shock and dismay at the allegations surrounding the Recording Academy and its leadership that surfaced this week”.

The recommendations made last month, they added, are “needed to improve diversity and inclusion at the Academy, and drive constructive change across the music industry”. And, the events of the last week “reinforce just how important and urgent it is that the Academy implement all of the changes in the report that we delivered – without any delay”.

Since the Dugan fallout, the Academy has announced two independent investigations, one into Dugan’s many allegations against the organisation, and another into the claims by her former Executive Assistant of bullying. You sense that in part the taskforce is urging the Academy board not to now use those investigations as an excuse to delay the implementation of its recommendations. It also calls for transparent reporting on said investigations.

The taskforce’s statement went on: “The Academy’s board of trustees and leadership must immediately commit themselves to real reform, take concrete steps to implement all of the taskforce reforms, and transparently and regularly report on their progress – including transparently reporting on the pending investigations they have announced are underway”.

Setting a deadline, the statement declares: “The taskforce will be reconvening in 90 days and expects to hear progress from the Academy by that time”.

With the big Grammys weekend getting underway, the Academy remains in damage control mode. While Dugan’s legal document earlier this week included a plethora of allegations, of most interest to those beyond the music industry are the claims that the Grammy nominations process is basically rigged.

Therefore, the latest bit of damage control from Academy HQ is a statement aiming to stop those who watch the televised Grammys show this Sunday from wondering, “which of these winners are only on stage because of some dodgy dealings behind the scenes?”

Dugan’s legal filing claims that, while 12,000 members of the Recording Academy vote for who should win the Grammys, longlists from the voting process are then filtered by secret committees. During that process artists are bumped up the longlists – or even added – by committee members who may or may not have commercial links to said artists. In one case, Dugan claimed, an actual nominated artist was in the room to do the bumping.

Not so, say Academy chair Harvey Mason Jr and Chief Awards Officer Bill Freimuth. They declared in a joint statement yesterday that “spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong”.

As the statement goes on, Mason and Freimuth say “yes”, there are nomination review committees who agree the final shortlists after the wider membership votes. But “no”, these committees are not secret. “Yes”, the membership of each committee is. But only to stop the industry from lobbying committee members. And “yes”, these committees are made up of such super talented people, it’s inevitable they are going to be linked to some of the nominees. But don’t forget all the procedures in place to stop sneaky self-serving manoeuvres.

“There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest”, the statement insists. “Should a committee member qualify for a Grammy, they are required to leave the room for the entire listening session and are not allowed to vote in that category … Everything relating to the nomination and voting processes is set up with the intention of protecting the integrity of the awards in order to recognise and celebrate artists’ excellence”.

Mason and Freimuth conclude by saying they “remain fully committed to the integrity, transparency and robustness of the awards”. Though whether that means they’ll publish lists of nomination committee members after the show – when the “we don’t want them to be lobbied” excuse no longer applies – remains to be seen.

Such lists relating to past awards could be published right now, of course. And given Dugan’s allegation that last year one committee member pushed themselves up the longlist ahead of Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande for a Song Of The Year nomination, a little “transparency” on the nomination committee members past and present would make for very interesting reading.

Either way, the eventful Dugan v Recording Academy battle continues. There’ll be a short interlude this weekend for some tedious prize giving, before we get back to the more important business of accusations and denials on Monday.