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The Weeknd still boycotting Grammys, despite ditching of nominations committees

By | Published on Wednesday 5 May 2021

The Weeknd

The Weeknd has said that he still won’t submit his music for consideration by the Grammy Awards. This despite a number of rule changes at America’s big awards bash that almost entirely do away with the “secret committees” that prompted him to boycott this year’s event.

Last week, Grammy organiser the Recording Academy agreed to remove nomination review committees from the shortlisting process in all but a number of what it terms ‘craft categories’ – awards for things like package design and immersive audio, where a smaller number of Grammy voters have specialist knowledge.

Other than that, the decision of the Academy’s voting members will be final in almost all categories, including the ‘big four’ of Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Album Of The Year and Best New Artist.

Speaking to Variety this week, The Weeknd said that the removal of the nomination review committees was “an important start”, but that it did not restore his trust enough for him to want to begin entering his music again. He, of course, hit out last year when he failed to receive any nominations, accusing the whole event of being “corrupt”.

Despite sweeping changes to the rules, he said: “The trust has been broken for so long between the Grammy organisation and artists that it would be unwise to raise a victory flag. I think the industry and public alike need to see the transparent system truly at play for the win to be celebrated, but it’s an important start. I remain uninterested in being a part of the Grammys, especially with their own admission of corruption for all these decades. I will not be submitting in the future”.

The Recording Academy would probably not frame last week’s rule updates as “an admission of corruption”. While the nomination review committees have become controversial in recent years, their wide use at the Grammys was also the result of controversy. Initially introduced in the classical categories in 1989 to make up for the smaller number of voters in the wider Academy membership with relevant knowledge, they were subsequently added to the jazz categories too.

Then, in 1995, committees were added to the big four awards to make a final decision on the nominees in those categories. That came after the nominations for Album Of The Year that year had featured nods for the likes of The Three Tenors and Tony Bennett, but not Snoop Dogg, Pearl Jam and other newer artists who had released some of the year’s most successful albums. This led to accusations that the awards were out of touch.

The real issue there, of course, was that many voters among the Grammy membership were out of touch. Adding a committee to tweak the shortlists selected by those voters wasn’t necessarily a real solution to the problem. It’s only more recently that organisers have made moves to update the ceremony’s pool of voters, so to ensure that they reflect the modern music industry and are still active in the business (some longtime voters having moved on but still been eligible to vote in the past).

Along with the decision to (mostly) drop nomination committees last week, the Recording Academy said that 90% of voters have now been through a requalification process. This was part of the justification for removing the committees – there now being more confidence that voters could be trusted to come up with lists of nominees that actually reflect what is happening the music world.

Another change is that Academy members will only be allowed to cast votes in a maximum of ten categories, down from fifteen. This aims to ensure that people only vote in categories where they have relevant knowledge, and to reduce block voting.

“As an Academy, we have reaffirmed our commitment to continue to meet the needs of music creators everywhere, and this year’s changes are a timely and positive step forward in the evolution of our voting process”, said Bill Freimuth, the Academy’s Chief Awards Officer. “We rely on the music community to help us to continue to evolve, and we’re grateful for their collaboration and leadership”.

In an interview with Variety last week, Grammys boss Harvey Mason Jr said that he’d been working on dropping the committees for months before The Weeknd called them out. However, The Weeknd’s manager, Wassim ‘Sal’ Slaiby, credited the artist with bringing about these changes, saying: “No change comes without a voice heard. I’m just proud of Abel for standing up for what he believes in. I was in a shock when all this happened but now I see it clearly, and I’m glad we stood for our beliefs”.

Still, we know that this isn’t enough for The Weeknd. Exactly what further change he’d would like to see isn’t clear. It also remains to be seen if giving an updated pool of voters free reign to decide nominees stops complaints about snubs. I wouldn’t hold your breath.