The Recording Academy has been under a fair bit of scrutiny in the wake of this year’s Grammys ceremony. So in an interview with Pitchfork, Academy president Neil Portnow responded to what people have been speaking out about.
The hot topic was the Grammys’ relation to artists of color in the wake of Beyoncé’s latest Album of the Year loss, thus extending the streak of no black acts winning that category since Herbie Hancock in 2008.
Asked point blank if he thinks the Grammys have “a race problem,” Portnow responded:
No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all. Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So when we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity—it’s the 14,000 members of the Academy. They have to qualify in order to be members, which means they have to have recorded and released music, and so they are sort of the experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry. It’s always hard to create objectivity out of something that’s inherently subjective, which is what art and music is about. We do the best we can. We have 84 categories where we recognize all kinds of music, from across all spectrums.
While Portnow may sound dismissive, he is right to point out that this issue is more complicated than “black artist doesn’t win = racism,” even in the case of a cultural landmark as inescapable as Lemonade. Still, the Academy would be wise to at the very least listen to the grievances to artists who continue to feel marginalized.
Elsewhere in the interview, Portnow discusses black artists like Drake, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean who chose not to attend this year’s ceremony. He is notably clearheaded about respecting these personal decisions.
While there are some ways in which it seems like Portnow does not quite get it, he does recognize that this issue is more nuanced and multilayered than how it is often treated. But yeah, there are a lot of Grammy voters who could really stand to appreciate Lemonade a lot more than they do.