The Recording Academy has launched a series of online videos dubbed “#FlippingTheRecord.” “Through honest, unfiltered conversations, we’ll reveal everything you really need to know about the Recording Academy, the Grammys, and our year-round work,” an Academy blurb promised.
In the first four videos, which the Academy posted on its Instagram and TikTok accounts on Friday (June 9), rapper Cordae pressed Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. on a wide range of matters, including voting and representation.
None of Cordae’s questions ruffled the ever-polished Mason, though they were frequently pointed, especially given that this is an Academy-sponsored project. “The people may feel like the Grammys have been making blatantly bad music decisions the last 15-20 years and maybe even further than that,” was Cordae’s opening comment.
Cordae made clear his displeasure that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar for best rap album in 2014, and that fun. beat Frank Ocean for best new artist in 2013. (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat Lamar in four categories that year, but that was the only one Cordae mentioned. Cordae didn’t mention fun. by name, but he did lament that Ocean lost in that category.) “It always seems like it’s happening to Black folks,” Cordae complained.
The 25-year-old Cordae, formerly known as YBN Cordae, has gone 0-3 at the Grammys. Mason, 55, also knows what it’s like to be disappointed on Grammy night. His career track record stands at 0-5. In their conversation, Mason revealed the loss that irked him the most. Let’s start with that in this recap of five highlights from a series of Recording Academy videos on the Grammy process.
Mason was “mad” that The Beatles’ ‘Love’ album beat the ‘Dreamgirls’ soundtrack.
In 2008, the Dreamgirls soundtrack, on which Mason was one of the producers, lost best compilation soundtrack album for motion picture, television or other visual media to an album from Love, the Cirque du Soleil show featuring remixes of Beatles songs. Love was allowed in the category because the show was considered “visual media.”
This came up when Mason was relating to people who feel they’ve been snubbed. “I understand you’re mad. I’ve been snubbed. I’ve been mad that I didn’t win. The Beatles beat me for something they should have never beat me for. I was mad.”
For the record, the four Beatles didn’t win for the album. The award went to the album’s producers and engineer.
The Academy has worked hard to increase the number of Black and women voters.
When Cordae said, “It always seems like it’s happening to Black folks,” referring to controversial award night losses, Mason didn’t disagree, though he sought to provide context.
“We’ve got to make sure our voting body is relevant and is refreshed and is people who know this music,” he said. “When you talk about the Black music artists that were overlooked, you had to look at our voting membership up until two years ago – We had a very low percentage of Black voters or people who came from Black music genres. We had very few women voters. That’s changed. All these things have been in place over the last two years.
“… As of three years ago we started going out into genres, into communities, and saying we need more banjo players, we need more rap artists, we need more women, we need more people of this genre, and we stared inviting people in. That’s how we started to change our membership. We’ve still got a long way to go. That’s how we’re going to get better results.”
Mason gets frustrated when disgruntled artists lash out at the Academy.
“That’s what frustrates me, when artists get so mad they want to rip up the Academy,” Mason said. “They want to bring us down because we didn’t get a nomination right or somebody got snubbed. They say ‘Oh, the Academy sucks.’ They’re not seeing all the other work that’s being done…
“But when you look at what happens to the Academy and all the work that goes into helping our industry, when you tear down the Grammys, you only hurt our business and our industry and our next generation of music people. That’s what’s hard for me and that’s why I want to explain what the Grammys are about.”
Mason took the CEO job because he saw an opportunity to “really, really move the needle.”
Mason recalled becoming interim CEO in 2020 upon the forced exit of his predecessor, Deborah Dugan. [Though he doesn’t name her and merely says “after a previous CEO stepped aside.”]
“I did it on an interim basis for a little while while we looked to find somebody else, and then I realized the opportunity that I had,” he explained. “We never had a Black CEO. We never had a person who came from here [a recording studio background] in that position. We never had somebody who saw the industry through the lens of a music person or a creator. I said, ‘Wait. This is a chance to do something different and really, really move the needle.’”
The idea of making Grammy vote tallies public isn’t off the table.
“Let’s say an artist feels they’ve been super-snubbed and they ask for transparency – ‘Let me just see the results.’ How does that look to you?” Cordae asked.
“Up until now we haven’t shared the exact numbers of who voted for what category – how many people won by how many votes,” Mason replied. “It’s a little sensitive. I don’t know if that’s the right way going forward because there is more of a desire – and almost a demand – for transparency.
“So it’s really something we’re looking at. But for me, that’s always been really the only reason not to do it. I don’t want people feeling ‘off’ about how many people are voting for them vs. somebody else. With art, it’s a sensitive thing. We’re not opposed to doing something different.”