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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Grammys expand nominee field after criticism on diversity

Next year's awards will boost the field of hopefuls from five to eight for the top four categories in hopes of having more diverse nominees 

Bruno Mars receives a second Grammy for Record of the Year during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show in New York. AFP
Bruno Mars receives a second Grammy for Record of the Year during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show in New York. AFP

The Grammys will expand the number of nominees in main categories for music's most prestigious awards as organisers 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 recognises overall song; Song of the Year, which honours songwriting; and Best New Artist.

Other categories will remain at five nominees.

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.

Read more: Five of the best moments from the Grammy Awards 2018

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 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.

Read more: Kendrick Lamar becomes first rapper to win Pulitzer

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, Grammy exec Neil Portnow said that female musicians needed to "step up," while also speaking of the need for more mentorship.

His remarks generated a furore, with stars including Katy Perry and P!nk taking him to task and a group of women music executives demanding that he step down.

Portnow said on May 31 that he was stepping down, meaning that the expansion of Grammy nominations will likely be one of the final decisions under his watch.