Grammys expand nominee field after criticism on diversity

In this file photo taken on January 28, 2018 Bruno Mars receives a second Grammy for Record of the Year during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show in New York. (AFP/Timothy A. CLARY)
Updated 27 June 2018
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Grammys expand nominee field after criticism on diversity

  • The Grammys will expand the number of nominees in main categories for music’s most prestigious awards
  • The prizes are Album of the Year; Record of the Year, which recognizes overall song; Song of the Year, which honors songwriting; and Best New Artist

NEW YORK: The Grammys will expand the number of nominees in main categories for music’s most prestigious awards as organizers try to counter a backlash over how few women and minorities are winning.
In one of the biggest changes at the Grammys in years, the Recording Academy — which administers the prizes — said Tuesday in a letter to members that next year’s awards will boost the field of hopefuls from five to eight for the top four categories.
The prizes are Album of the Year; Record of the Year, which recognizes overall song; Song of the Year, which honors songwriting; and Best New Artist.
Other categories will remain at five nominees. The 2019 Grammys will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles at the start of the year, though an exact date has not yet been announced.
The change echoes the 2009 decision of the Academy Awards to double the number of contenders for the Best Picture Oscar from five to 10 at the most.
But while the film academy was largely trying to find a place at the televised gala for crowd-pleasing blockbusters alongside critically acclaimed fare, the Recording Academy is facing quite a different dilemma.
Criticism has mounted that the Recording Academy’s tastes are consistently old-fashioned, more in line with the older, mostly white male professionals who vote and out of tune with contemporary culture.
Hoping to bring more diversity, the Recording Academy made another key change in time for this year’s awards by switching to online ballots, broadening its pool to itinerant musicians who are not waiting at their mailboxes.
Likely due to the reform, the 2018 Grammys for the first time saw hip-hop dominate the top categories.
But the night’s big winner was ultimately Bruno Mars, the party-loving funk revivalist, rather than politically aware rappers Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z or Childish Gambino.
And the latest Grammys was strikingly devoid of women, with Lorde the only nominee for Album of the Year and none earning a nod for Record of the Year, at a time that the growing #MeToo movement was raising concern about the gender biases and harassment holding back women.
Asked after the January 28 awards in New York why more women were not winning, Portnow said that female musicians needed to “step up,” while also speaking of the need for more mentorship.
His remarks generated a furor, with stars including Katy Perry and P!nk taking him to task and a group of women music executives demanding that he quit.
Portnow said on May 31 that he was stepping down next year, meaning that the expansion of Grammy nominations will likely be one of the final decisions under his watch.
In a statement announcing the expansion of nominees, Portnow said that the Recording Academy was seeking to adapt to an “ever-changing industry.”
The expansion “creates more opportunities for a wider range of recognition” and “gives more flexibility to our voters when having to make the often challenging decisions,” said Portnow, a record executive who has led the academy since 2002.
The Recording Academy also announced reform of the Grammy for Best World Music Album, one of the categories that draws the most eye-rolls among aficionados.
Starting next year, a review committee will determine the five nominees out of the top 15 put forward in nominations by the Academy’s 13,000 members.
Despite aiming to represent the whole planet, the World Music category has been dominated by a handful of favorites.
The South African all-male choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, popularized abroad by Paul Simon’s 1986 “Graceland” album, won this year for the fifth time. Other perennial nominees include pop flamenco veterans Gipsy Kings.
Between 2004 and 2011, the award was split into two categories — one for traditional and one for contemporary world music — before they were merged again.


UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

Updated 18 June 2019
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UAE gift helps French palace reopen ‘forgotten theater’

  • Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi
  • The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017

FONTAINEBLEAU: An exquisite 19th-century French theater outside Paris that fell into disuse for one and half centuries has been restored with the help of a €10 million donation from oil-rich Abu Dhabi.
The Napoleon III theater at Fontainebleau Palace south of Paris was built between 1853 and 1856 under the reign of the nephew of emperor Napoleon I.
It opened in 1857 but was used only a dozen times, which has helped preserve its gilded adornments, before being abandoned in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III.
But during a state visit to France in 2007, Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, was reportedly entranced by the abandoned theater and offered €10 million ($11.2 million) on the spot for its restoration.
After a project that has lasted 12 years the theater is now being reopened.
An official inauguration is expected soon, hosted by French Culture Minister Franck Riester and attended by UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Now called the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Theatre, it is the latest example of the close relations between Paris and Abu Dhabi.
The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum.
For all its ornate beauty, the theater has hardly ever been used for its orginal purpose, hosting only a dozen performances between 1857 and 1868, each attended by around 400 people.
“While it had been forgotten, the theater was in an almost perfect state,” said the head of the Fontainebleau Palace, Jean-Francois Hebert.
“Let us not waste this jewel, and show this extraordinary place of decorative arts,” he added.
According to the palace, the theater is “probably the last in Europe to have kept almost all its original machinery, lighting and decor.”
Having such a theater was the desire of Napoleon III’s wife Eugenie. But after the defeat, his capture in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the declaration of France’s Third Republic, the theater fell into virtual oblivion.
Following the renovation, the theater will mainly be a place to visit and admire, rather than for regularly holding concerts.
“The aim is not to give the theater back to its first vocation” given its “very fragile structure,” said Hebert.
Short shows and recitals may be performed in exceptional cases, under the tightest security measures and fire regulations. But regular guided tours will allow visitors to discover the site, including the stage sets.
The restoration aimed to use as little new material as possible, with 80 percent of the original material preserved.
The opulent central chandelier — three meters high and 2.5 meters wide — has been restored to its original form.