After back-to-back-to-back-to-back years of failing to bestow the industry’s highest honor on an artist of color, and a particularly bruising though not unprecedented year of mostly ignoring female talent, the Grammys took action to address the deep-rooted racism and misogyny within the organization.
The Recording Academy announced Thursday that it invited 900 new voting members to join its ranks: “a broad range of music creators, including vocalists, songwriters, instrumentalists, producers and engineers,” Billboard reports. “All 900 invitees, who were pre-qualified to vote by the Recording Academy, are female and/or people of color and/or under 39.”
This tactic of flooding the voting body with individuals from previously underrepresented communities should sound familiar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — administrator of the Academy Awards — is taking a similar approach to diversifying its own body, after several years of #OscarsSoWhite-related embarrassments reminded the movie-going public that the academy’s membership was overwhelmingly white and male. This June, the academy invited its biggest, most diverse class ever, extending invitations to 928 people, 49 percent of whom are female and 38 percent are people of color.
Recording academy president Neil Portnow made headlines earlier this year for his callous dismissal of music industry sexism and racism. In the months leading up to the 2018 Grammy Awards, Portnow insisted, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that the Grammys did not have a race problem because its voters “really listens with their ears more than their eyes or anything else.”
When only one woman, Alessia Cara, won a televised award at this year’s Grammys and the only female nominee for album of the year, Lorde, was not offered a solo performance slot (all her fellow male nominees were), Portnow said that women who want to be recognized by the recording academy need to “step up.” He later insisted his remarks were taken out of context and, amid calls for his resignation, announced the formation of the diversity and inclusion task force.
The leader of this task force, which launched in May, is Tina Tchen. Tchen co-founded Time’s Up, the formal Hollywood initiative to combat sexual harassment and assault within and outside the entertainment industry. She now serves as the leader of its legal defense fund, which provides subsidized legal and PR support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or violence in the workplace. In simpler times — so, like, three years ago — she served as then-first lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and, before that, as an assistant to President Barack Obama.
There are 16 people on the task force, including Common, Andra Day, Sheryl Crow, and former BET CEO Debra Lee.
As Billboard reports, the recording academy has “greatly diversified the composition of its Nominations Review Committees, the 16 committees that determine the final Grammy nominations in craft and other specialized categories. This year, the composition of the Nominations Review Committees is 51 percent female and 48 percent people of color, up sharply from last year, when they were 28 percent female and 37 percent people of color.
Portnow is retiring in July 2019. Tchen told Billboard that the task force will not be involved in selecting his replacement, though they’ve told the academy leadership to make sure they are choosing from a “diverse slate” of candidates. Tchen believes the academy “are taking that to heart.”
“We’re living through a moment where we’re seeing a national culture change on these issues,” Tchen said. “The music industry and recording academy are not immune to that. What specifics things they are are probably too early for me to say other than for me to observe that the industry and academy exists in a broader world that is currently going through what I hope will be a true reflection point and true cultural change overall in how we view our leadership and our talent across the board.”