It takes a long time for change to trickle through the entertainment industry, and award shows are often the last things affected. So the fact that the Grammys are moving to online voting has me cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it's great that they're finally modernizing an outdated system and making it easier for industry professionals to weigh in. But the more pessimistic side of my brain wonders if this is really addressing the problems of Grammys voting.
Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy's vice president of awards, spoke to Buzzfeed about the motivation behind the change. If I'm being honest, his statement doesn't really speak to my concerns about the system currently in place:
"We hope that our nominations will better represent the entire community of music makers, especially if there's a particular segment that we've been missing. There may be certain genres within our awards categories where the demographic that tends to participate in making that particular music might be more tech savvy in general, or might have more of a mobile lifestyle than certain other genres, and we think this might appeal to those folks."
It's great to make efforts to connect better with your more tech-savvy — read: younger — demographic, don't get me wrong. But this does feel a bit to me like handing the problem off to the younger generation in hopes that they can fix it. Up to this point, Grammy voting has taken place via paper ballots. They get mailed out to all 13,000 of the Academy of Recording's eligible members, and the ones that get sent back get counted.
But here's the thing; we have basically no info on what's getting sent back. If you miss the deadline, or you're away from your home address and never even see the ballot, your vote doesn't get counted. Some of the most legit members of the Academy — the touring, working musicians — are also the ones least likely to have their voices heard. This might explain why, in past years, the way an artist is perceived within the industry hasn't always translated to nominations. Often, nominations or wins have gone to the most recognizable name, which has made many question whether the voters are actually listening to the songs and albums nominated.
It makes it a tricky club to break into for less familiar artists, and it gets even harder if you're a woman, a person of color, or both. When Adele won Album of the Year for 25 over Beyoncé's Lemonade, even she was surprised. The Brit dedicated her speech to effusive praise for her supposed competitor, but the lovely gesture does little to combat the issue. That same year, in 2017, nominations were handed to big names like Drake and Justin Bieber for albums that many felt weren't their best. Meanwhile, artists like Chance the Rapper, Sia, and Kanye West were snubbed for some of their best work to date.
While it would be great if online voting could improve some of those issues, I think widening the voting pool is only half the battle. We also need to find some way of making sure that Academy members are actually listening to the music provided to them. Because if they aren't, they aren't doing their job, and they should have their eligibility revoked. And Freimuth agrees with me, saying, "We want people to be voting based on the quality of the music, not how many times they've streamed it or heard it on the radio."
So, hopefully, this online voting be a first step. Because the fun thing about online is that you can keep track of all sorts of stuff — like whether people actually listen to the songs before voting. And, hopefully, this will usher in real and more representative change at the Grammys when it comes to nominations and wins in the future.