Following a tumultuous week of headline-grabbing accusations and counterclaims between The Recording Academy and its ousted president, the 62nd Grammy Awards will go on as scheduled Sunday evening at Staples Center, with singer-rapper Lizzo leading the way with eight nominations.
Billed as “Music’s Biggest Night,” the ceremony will culminate a month The Recording Academy would probably like to forget.
Deborah Dugan, the first woman to ever serve as president/CEO of the academy, was placed on leave in mid-January over what the academy called a misconduct allegation. Dugan, however, shot back by filing an explosive complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, alleging she was being retaliated against for raising allegations of “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the `boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the academy.”
Dugan also alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment last year by the academy’s general counsel. She also claimed that former president/CEO Neil Portnow — who came under fire in 2018 for suggesting female artists need to “step up” if they wanted more recognition at the Grammys — was actually forced out due to a rape allegation.
Portnow vehemently denied the allegation. The academy issued a statement saying Dugan only came forward with her claims after a female academy employee filed a complaint against her, and that Dugan was placed on leave only after she demanded $22 million in exchange for her resignation.
“Our loyalty will always be to the 25,000 members of the recording industry,” according to the academy. “We regret that Music’s Biggest Night is being stolen from them by Ms. Dugan’s actions and we are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”
Sunday morning, hours before the awards ceremony, Harvey Mason Jr., interim president of The Recording Academy, sent a memo to the organization’s members outlining a new plan to increase diversity.
“Six months ago, when I put my hat in the ring to be your Chair, I did so because I believed that the Academy could do better — could be better,” Mason began. “The music we create has always reflected the best of ourselves and our world. But what was true of music has historically not been true of the music business as a whole. Too often, or industry and Academy have alienated some of our own artists — in particular, through a lack of diversity that, in many cases, results in a culture that leans towards exclusion rather than inclusion.
” … In February 2018, we empowered a Diversity Task Force, led by Tina Tchen and made up of distinguished individuals from outside the Academy, to take a hard, independent look at our organization specifically and the music industry as a whole,” the memo continued. “They detailed the ways in which we were falling short, and laid out 18 recommendations for change.”
“Since I took office, we as an organization have agreed to 17 of those 18 recommendations. I know some will feel that we’re not doing enough fast enough. I understand the urgency. For me personally, and for this organization, these immediate steps are a continuation of our ongoing work.
“But it’s not enough to pledge ourselves to change. We must take action. There is no excuse for waiting, especially when so many of our members have been tirelessly advocating for a bold new direction for so long.
“That’s why I’m proud to announce these new initiatives, initiatives developed in partnership with the Diversity Task Force and other champions of change. They include the following:
— The Academy will hire a dedicated Diversity & Inclusion Officer. This person will be hired within the next 90 days.
— We will establish a fellowship, funded by the Academy, that will be responsible for independent review and reporting of the progress of the Academy*s Diversity & Inclusion efforts. This will be in place within 120 days.
— We will create a fund to be distributed annually to different “women in music” organizations that will be managed by the D&I Officer. This will go into effect immediately.
— The Academy will recommit to meeting all 18 of the Task Force Recommendations as outlined in the full report and in a manner that will endure, with the caveat that we will have a deeper exploration, along with the Task Force into voting processes for the GRAMMYS.
— We are committing to meet with the Task Force to review our progress on these as well as the rest of their eighteen initiatives. This first meeting will happen in 45 days. There will be subsequent follow ups to review progress.”
The Academy’s memo was met with almost immediate pushback from Doug Wigdor, an attorney for Dugan.
“Harvey Mason’s public statement on the eve of the Grammys is all smoke and mirrors given that each of his so called new `initiatives’ had already been agreed to under the direction of Ms. Dugan,” Wigdor’s statement says, according to Variety. “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. 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.
“Therefore, in order for there to be real change four things must happen immediately. First, there must be an independent and qualified professional Chair and Board. Second, the Academy must agree to immediately suspend the conflict-rife nominating review committees (`secret committees’). Third, there must be a truly independent investigation into the Board’s relationships, self-dealings, and use of public non-profit monies. Finally, the Board must immediately reinstate Ms. Dugan as the CEO of the Recording Academy to oversee and effectuate such changes.”
Mason’s missive came on the heels of an awkward moment during Saturday night’s annual pre-Grammy bash in Beverly Hills, thrown by Clive Davis and the Recording Academy. As Mason looked on, producer and recording artist Sean “Diddy” Combs blasted the Grammys’ record on diversity while accepting the Salute to Industry Icons Award.
“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys. So right now, this current situation, it’s not a revelation,” Combs said, adding, “I’m officially starting a clock. Y’all have 365 days to get your s*** together.”
As for Sunday’s awards, Lizzo and 18-year-old goth songstress Billie Eilish are both nominated in all four of the top Grammy categories — Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist. It’s the first time in the history of the Grammy Awards that two artists have been nominated in all four of those categories in the same year. The only artist to ever win all four of the prizes in the same year is Christopher Cross, who pulled it off in 1981.
Eilish and rapper Lil Nax X each have six nominations overall.
Lizzo is nominated in the Album of the Year category for “Cuz I Love You (Deluxe),” while Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” and Lil Nas X’s “7” earned them nominations. Joining them in the category are Bon Iver for “I,I,” Lana Del Rey for “Norman F*****g Rockwell,” Ariana Grande for “Thank U, Next,” H.E.R. for “I Used to Know Her” and Vampire Weekend for “Father of the Bride.”
Arguably the year’s biggest hit, the Lil Nas X-Billy Ray Cyrus collaboration “Old Town Road” leads the list of nominees for Record of the Year, while Lizzo is nominated for “Truth Hurts” and Eilish for “Bad Guy.” Also vying for the honor will be Bon Iver for “Hey, Ma,” Grande for “7 Rings,” H.E.R. for “Hard Place, Khalid for “Talk” and Post Malone and Swae Lee for “Sunflower.”
Nominees for Song of the Year — which honors the songwriters — are Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way,” Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” H.E.R.’s “Hard Place,” Taylor Swift’s “Lover,” Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F*****g Rockwell,” Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”
Vying with Lizzo, Eilish and Lil Nas X for Best New Artist are Black Pumas, Maggie Rogers, Rosalia, Tank and the Bangas and Yola.
The vast majority of the Grammy Awards will be presented during a pre-telecast ceremony beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the Microsoft Theater. But the biggest awards of the night will be handed out during the roughly 3 1/2-hour televised portion of the event from Staples Center.
Alicia Keys will host the telecast ceremony, which will feature the usual wide array of musical performances. Among those scheduled to perform are Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker, Camila Cabello, H.E.R., Common, BTS, Ariana Grande, the Jonas Brothers, Rosalia, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Aerosmith, Charlie Wilson, Run-D.M.C. and Tyler, The Creator. Real-life couple Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani will perform together.
Bonnie Raitt will pay tribute during the show to Lifetime Achievement Award recipient John Prine.
The show will also feature a tribute to the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, featuring John Legend, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Kirk Franklin and Roddy Ricch. Rapper YG is also scheduled to take part in the tribute, despite his arrest Friday by Los Angeles police on suspicion of robbery.
Gary Clark Jr. will be joined by The Roots to perform Clark’s Grammy-nominated song “This Land.”
Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty will perform during the “In Memoriam” segment, while Sheila E. and Usher will present a tribute to Prince. The show will also feature an all-star performance of “I Sing the Body Electric” from the movie “Fame.”
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