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

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.


Young Saudi’s opera singing journey leads him to Italy

Mohammed Al-Zahrani’s adventure started in school, where a classmate encouraged him to refine his talent. (Supplied)
Updated 36 min 39 sec ago

Young Saudi’s opera singing journey leads him to Italy

  • Performer wants to be as famous as Pavarotti

JEDDAH: Mohammed Al-Zahrani has faced down many challenges while pursuing his dream to be an opera singer and represent Saudi Arabia on the world stage, and his journey has led him to Italy, where he is living in Rome and learning the language.

“I have encountered many social and traditional barriers but I luckily managed to overcome those obstacles,” the 23-year-old performing artist told Arab News.
“The objection of my family, relatives and friends was a result of their unawareness about other cultures. They are very strict and conservative people who adhere to customs and traditions.” But their stance has softened since he landed in Europe. “At such a young age, I am living far away from my own country and family just to represent my country the best way I can.”
His adventure started in school, where a classmate heard him sing and encouraged him to refine his talent. It was then that he believed he could be an international opera singer. “That was a dream and I am now working on that dream.”
The Italians were friendly and welcoming, he said, and his cultural and religious background has never proved to be an issue. They were polite and nice, regarding him as an ambitious and talented person who shared their love of art.
“I want to help spread this beautiful art in Saudi Arabia and change our people’s perception about all kinds of Western arts. Also, I would like to open an opera house in my country and lend a hand to those willing to learn classical arts.”
Al-Zahrani has joined the Coro Polifonico Musica Creator choir. He said that the story began when he was waiting for a train in Rome and saw a man playing piano at the station.

I have encountered many social and traditional barriers but I luckily managed to overcome those obstacles.

Mohammed Al-Zahrani, Performer

“I noticed that the music he was playing was familiar. I approached him and began to sing. I was just trying to pass time until the train arrived. It turned out that one of the passengers was a member of the choir. She asked for my phone number and arranged a meeting with the director of the choir.”
The director listened to Al-Zahrani sing a few days later and expressed her interest in his voice.
“She immediately chose me as a solo singer in the choir and insisted I take part in an upcoming concert. I remember I was playing an assisting role to the famous singer Francesco Sartori.”
Al-Zahrani is a fan of famous opera singers and wants to become as great as they are one day, listing Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli as his favorites.
But some Saudis have disagreed with Al-Zahrani’s decision to drop out of college — he spent one year at King Abdul Aziz University — saying he has put his future at risk.
“Wherever you go, there are always people with you and those who are against you. Personally, I will do what I am convinced with no matter what their opinions are,” he said.
Al-Zahrani performed at Riyadh Season and has been invited to perform in other Saudi festivals, including the coming Jeddah Season. “No matter what support I receive or individual successes I make, I will always be in need of my country’s encouragement and support.”
Saudi Arabia’s first opera house is set to open in Jeddah, the General Entertainment Authority announced last February. It is scheduled for completion in 2022.