Recording Academy VP Explains Grammys Snubs, Beyonce Love + Who’s Ruling Pop
If yesterday's (December 6) announcement of the 2017 Grammy Awards nominees left you scratching your head, and wondering how big-time acts like Drake or Sia had been mostly overlooked, an awards-show authority has insisted it's not the result of foul play.
Bill Freimuth, Senior Vice President of Awards at The Recording Academy, told PopCrush during a roundtable discussion that the annual ceremony cannot dictate or foresee who's nominated for an award, or who wins. That's all in the hands of the voting class, a collection of professionals with either technical or creative credits (vocalists, engineers and writers, just to name a few) who have worked on at least six commercially released tracks.
"It doesn’t mean [snubbed artists] are no good, voters they just felt more strongly about others," he said. "There's no mechanism to vote against somebody, it's about who gets the most positive votes."
One surprise vote where pop music is concerned was Kelly Clarkson's "Piece by Piece (Idol Version)" nomination in the Best Pop Vocal performance category. The original version of the song was released as part of its eponymous 2015 album, but Clarkson's stunning piano-backed performance of the track on American Idol in February prompted a new, scaled-back recording that evidently made industry waves.
And Clarkson's inclusion in the category signaled an unusual trend in Grammys categories: voters seem to love new versions of existing tracks. In 2011, Beyonce was nominated for a live version of "Halo," the original version of which had won the category in 2010, Adele won in 2013 for a live "Set Fire to the Rain" release and Sarah McLachlan got the trophy in 2000 for a redone "I Will Remember You."
Freimuth insisted the pattern doesn't mean there's a dearth of good, new music when preexisting songs get nods, it just means academy members are likely to vote for artists they consider especially talented whenever they have the chance.
"Live versions tend to be more uptempo, maybe have a little more of a rock feel in the pop tracks — that has an extra appeal to voters," he said. "And, of course, there's the instance where voters simply have so much love for a particular artist that they’re going to say ‘We get a chance to vote for Adele again, isn’t that wonderful, here’s my vote.'"
Whether Beyonce's winning for brand new songs or reworked versions of existing tracks, there's no denying she's winning a lot (she's got 20 Grammys). But Freimuth said Lemonade, which made Bey the 2017 Grammys' most-nominated artist, did not benefit from its captivating visual facet. Voters are only supposed to vote on audio, he noted.
"That said, I’m sure it didn’t hurt her chance to have something so magnificent out there,” Freimuth said. “It may have influenced votes, but we encourage voters to base votes exclusively on what they hear."
And in the future, voters may hear plenty more. For the very first time ahead of the 2017 show, the Grammys opened up the nomination process to artists who've released streaming-exclusive albums — Chance the Rapper, who dropped Coloring Book in May, was notably among them, and got seven nods. Still, Freimuth isn't convinced the shift will lead to voting process overhauls.
"Streaming is an issue that we’ve been talking about for a couple years now and seeing how it came on the horizon and got on our radar, we started thinking about what our response or approach to streaming should be," he said. "We don’t think it amounted to much of an increase in our overall submissions, and yet it makes us feel like we did the right thing in terms of being current and being proactive and reactive to changes in the industry. We’re pleased as punch that it allowed Chance to be in competition this year because he’s a wonderful artist."
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