LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) — The Weeknd had a huge year in 2020 with the release of his fourth studio album After Hours. The album, which was heralded by critics and fans alike included the record-smashing single “Blinding Lights” which peaked at number one in thirty-four countries, including the United States and Canada, and currently which holds the record for most weeks spent in the top 5 and top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 after spending more than a year in the top 10.
However, that success did not merit a single Grammy nomination and now the Canadian recording artist announced he plans to boycott the awards show in the future.
“Because of the secret committees,” the Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, said in a statement provided to the New York Times. “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”
The Weeknd’s statement raises the thorny issue of the Grammy’s nominating committees – anonymous panels who review the initial nominations made by the music industry professionals who constitute the voting membership of the Recording Academy.
As the New York Times noted, the committees make the final determination for nominations for 61 of the Grammys’ 84 categories.
The committees first came to widespread public light in 2019 when Deborah Dugan, who was ousted by the Academy after a brief 8-month tenure as the organization’s president/CEO, accused the Academy of corruption in the selection process, alleging that members of the committees were allowed to vote despite clear conflicts of interest.
In a complaint to California’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Dugan described an alleged incident in which an unnamed artist and their representative were part of a committee which evaluated the song of the year nomination for 2019 even though the artist had been nominated for the award.
As a result, that artist ended up on the shortlist instead of other acts, Dugan claimed. However, she declined to name the musician and artist rep in question to protect their privacy.
“It’s mostly white males that are in those rooms that make these decisions, and there’s a conflict of interest,” Duggan told CBS reporter Tony Dokoupil in a separate interview
“If you represent that artist, you have a financial gain if they get nominated for a Grammy,” she added.
The Recording Academy strenuously denied Dugan’s allegations of a rigged nomination process, describing them as “categorically false.” In a statement to the BBC, the Academy’s chief awards’ officer Bill Freimuth said there are “strict rules in place” to prevent any conflicts of interest.
However, the damage to the reputation of the institution appears to have been done and The Weeknd joins a growing number of artists who have expressed doubts about the nomination process.
High profile artists including Beyonce, Drake, and Kanye West have accused the Grammys of racial bias, with Drake famously skipping the awards show in 2017. This year, Justin Bieber, Halsey, and Zayn Malik all called out the Academy over perceived snubs.
“I’ve been thinking and wanted to choose my words carefully because a lot of people have extended sympathy and apology to me since the Grammy nominations,” Halsey wrote in a statement, first reported by Stereogum. “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind-the-scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not-bribes.’ And if you get that far, it’s about committing to exclusive TV performances and making sure you help the Academy make their millions in advertising on the night of the show.”
The Recording Academy Response
In the wake of the allegations and criticism about racial and gender bias, The Recording Academy has made sweeping changes in a bid to foster an inclusive environment for the annual awards gala.
In 2018, the Academy formed a task force to evaluate the issue and last year, launched the Black Music Collective, which includes Quincy Jones and John Legend, to develop a guide to help the music industry improve its interactions with black musicians, professionals, and fans.
The Academy has also hired Valeisha Butterfield Jones as its first-ever Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.
Butterfield Jones, who began her new role in May, reports directly to Academy Chair and Interim President/CEO Harvey Mason jr. with a remit that includes “ensuring that diversity and inclusion are core to business values and standards and demonstrated throughout the organization.”
“It’s been a challenge to always make everybody happy, and that’s something that is constantly at play for the academy, probably any awards show, for that matter,” Mason told USA Today in a recent interview.
“I hope that anyone who may still be critical of the work that’s done, I invite you to join us and be our partner,” Butterfield Jones told USA Today. “We have not taken our foot off the gas since that speech. And quite frankly, the work began before that.”