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When the 62nd annual Grammy nominations were announced in November, fans were disappointed in snubs for BTS, Taylor Swift, Halsey and other artists expected to sweep the awards. “How to vote for Grammys” and “who decides winners?” are common questions after each awards show, especially when fan-favorite acts are left out of major categories. (Remember when Beck won over Beyoncé for Album of the Year in 2015?)
The 2020 Grammys include nominations for massive stars like Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey. And while artists like Swift and Halsey are missing from main categories like Album of the Year and Song of the Year, this year’s nominations still have a good show out, especially for newer artists like Lizzo and Eilish. Still, there’s always the chance of a snub. Grande’s Thank U Next was a career-high album, especially after the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, and the end of her whirlwind relationship with Pete Davidson. But what do the Grammys have in store for her?
Like most awards shows, the Grammys voting process is complicated. There are several steps to it and predictions aren’t always as easy to make as, say, the Oscars or other awards shows. Ahead, find out how Grammy winners are decided.
According to the official Grammys website, the first step in the nominations process is to screen submissions. Before nominations are decided by Recording Academy members, there are around 350 experts across various genres who determine whether a submission is eligible and placed in the correct field. What does this mean? Well, these experts make sure that a country song that’s submitted for a country category is actually country and that a “Best New Artist” is indeed a new artist. (There are a lot more politics for that category that we won’t go into now. But you can read about them here.)
“The purpose of screenings is not to make artistic or technical judgments about the recordings, but rather to make sure that each entry is eligible and placed in its proper category,” the Grammys website states.
Once Grammys submissions are screened, it’s time to nominate. Per the official Grammys website, the Recording Academy sends ballots voting members, who are instructed to vote only in their areas of expertise. So, essentially, a folk singer who’s in the Recording Academy is told to only vote in the folk categories. How the Recording Academy enforces this, the Grammys website doesn’t say. While Grammy voters can only vote for up to 15 categories in the genre fields of their specialty, all voters are able to vote in the Main Four categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.)
After nomination voting is completed, the ballots are counted by the independent accounting firm, Deloitte. The Grammys website also states that there are a few specialized categories that are determined by a national nomination review committee comprised of members across the country.
After nominations are determined, final ballots are sent to voting members who may vote in up to 15 genre categories, as well as the Main Four: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Again, voters are instructed to vote only in areas of their expertise. After that, the votes are counted by Deloitte before the results are announced at the annual Grammy Awards show, where winners are revealed for the first time. The Grammys website states that the results are sealed in Deloitte-sealed envelopes and not known until they’re announced.
Who’s in the Recording Academy?
All of this may lead you to wonder who the F is in the Recording Academy that determines Grammy winners and submissions. According to Billboard, the Recording Academy consists of more than 21,000 musicians, producers, recording engineers and other professionals in the music industry, but only about 12,000 members of those are allowed to vote. A Recording Academy member can become a voter with the endorsement of at least two Recording Academy voters. Voters must also be in good standing with their dues, which is $100 a month.
As for who can become a Recording Academy member, the official Grammys website states: “Recording Academy Voting Members are professionals with creative or technical credits on at least six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent). These may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, producers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators, and music video artists and technicians.”
In terms of demographics, the Recording Academy is embarrassingly skewed. Slate reported in 2018 that women only made up 21 percent of the Recording Academy, while people of color was only 28 percent. This may explain why there are only two women (Allison Krauss and Beyoncé) who are in the top 14 most decorated Grammy winners in history. It also explained why only one woman (Alessia Cara) took home a Grammy on the televised broadcast in 2018. To combat this, the Grammys invited 900 new members in 2018, specifically women, people of color and people under the age of 39.