Defending the Grammys: Harvey Mason Jr. Makes His Case
From yet another Beyoncé snub for Album of the Year to fan-roundtable segments that some viewers found cringe-inducing, this year’s Grammys sparked even more controversy than usual. In the new episode of our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, responds to criticism (including our own, on last week’s episode).
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“This is a new organization,” says Mason, pointing to extensive efforts to diversify the voting base since he took over in 2020. “This is a new academy. There’s always gonna be some disappointments. We’re getting to a place where it’s improving and it’s continuing to be more and more relevant every year… But I have to say, it’s a work in progress.”
More highlights from the conversation follow; to hear the full interview, press play above, or find it here at the podcast provider of your choice. (Also in this episode: a debate over the merits of Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show performance.)
Mason defends the fan roundtables, but doesn’t necessarily commit to their return next year. “It’s a science project,” he says. “You’re trying to find the right ratio of music to feel-good [content], to dialogue, to storytelling, to awards, and it’s always gonna be something that we tinker with. I thought the show, all in all, was unbelievable. We’re always gonna try things. We’re always gonna push the envelope, and see what’s next. We don’t wanna have the same show every year. We want to do things that are different. But more than anything, we want to have heart and we want to come from a place of love. We want to come from a place of bringing people together, unifying, celebrating, healing. And to me the fan packages humanized the artists and gave a real insight into people that appreciate and love their work. So whether or not it was too long, too short, too many, too few, that’s something that, you all can debate.”
Bonnie Raitt’s upset win for Song of the Year for the ballad “Just Like That” was a win for the Academy, Mason says. “I was surprised, honestly,” he says. “It’s not something that I would’ve predicted, but I was really proud of it. And it means our voters are really doing the work. They really listened — because if you listen to that song one time and you’re not crying by the end of it, you’re, you’re cold inside. If you were in the house and you saw the artist community when they announced that category, there was so much respect and love for her.”
The Academy is concerned that Drake and The Weeknd are refusing to submit their music for awards consideration, and is trying to win back their trust. “It’s not just about a couple artists,” says Mason. “It’s about the artist community. I want the artist community to trust the academy and feel like we’re doing the right work for the right reasons. We need to earn that trust and continue to build the trust with the artist community. And yes, we want to have a TV show and we want to celebrate and party with these artists. But the real purpose of the Academy is to serve the industry. We might miss an award. We might miss a nomination. Somebody might be pissed at us, but I promise you when they find out the 30 million dollars we gave to music people that needed help during Covid, or the staff we have in D.C. jumping up and down to fight for the rights of music people so that we can make a living, and when they find out about us being in schools and putting instruments in kids’ hands, I promise you they’ll have a little bit of a different perspective.”
The Academy is hard at work on a TV special expanding on the ceremony’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — filming will take place in August, and the show will air before the end of the year. “We’ve been working on that for about six months,” Mason says, “and it kind of goes hand in hand with what you saw on the Grammy stage. We thought the Grammy stage version of it, the 14 minutes, was a great appetizer, and just a little insight into what the show’s gonna be like in August. In that show, we’ll spend a little bit more time talking about the history and the impact of hip-hop on everything from politics to business, to education, to sports, to fashion. Many of the people you saw on the Grammy stage will be playing a larger role going forward in this show, and then of course, you’ll see a lot of other people. We didn’t have enough time to get to all the incredible hip-hop artists that we wanted to, but in August we will.”
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