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Grammys Head Honcho Neil Portnow Doesn't Think There's A 'Problem With Race At All' Following Beyoncé Snub

Neil Portnow
The last black artist to win Album of the Year at the Grammys was Herbie Hancock in 2008, and the last black woman was Lauryn Hill in 1999.
But still — the President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Neil Portnow, doesn’t think “there’s a race problem at all” with the voting system.
In an interview with Pitchfork this week following Beyonc├â┬⌐‘s controversial snub and boycotts from artists like Frank Ocean, Portnow commented on the award show’s apparent shut-out of minority artists.
Related: The Grammys Were Pretty Political This Year!
He said:

“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├óΓé¼ΓÇ¥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.”

The producer went on to add:

“We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. When you go to vote on a piece of music├óΓé¼ΓÇ¥at least the way that I approach it├óΓé¼ΓÇ¥is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen. It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year. And that is going to be very subjective. That’s what we ask our members to do, even in the ballots. We ask that they not pay attention to sales and marketing and popularity and charts. You have to listen to the music. So of the 14,000 voters, they listen, they make up their minds, and then they vote. Now here’s the other interesting part of the process, and we stand 100 percent behind the process: It’s a democratic vote by majority. So somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote. It could be that tight.”

When asked about whether the Recording Academy is interested in taking steps to increase diversity (like the Motion Picture Academy is said to have done after #OscarsSoWhite), Portnow said:

“Well, they may have had a problem. We don’t have that kind of an issue in that same fashion. But we are always working on increase diversity in membership, whether it’s ethnicity, gender, genre, or age. In order to maintain our relevance, we have to be refreshing all the time and we have to be doing that across the board.”

Portnow made a point to allude to Chance The Rapper‘s Best New Artist win when trying to prove the diversity of the voting body:

“The album, record, song and best new artist categories are ones that the entire voting membership is entitled to vote on. You don’t get Chance the Rapper as the Best New Artist of the year if you have a membership that isn’t diverse and isn’t open-minded and isn’t really listening to the music, and not really considering other elements beyond how great the music is.”

So now that we’ve talked about who WAS there — let’s chat about who WASN’T (AKA Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Drake).
Related: The BeyHive Obviously Got To Carlos Santana
Portnow shared that he has no hard feelings toward any artist who chooses not to attend, but each of these cases is a different story.
While Champagne Papi had a European tour in the books already, Portnow revealed he actually reached out the Yeezy about performing, but it just didn’t work out due to everything going on:

“Kanye, as you know, had some medical concerns and situations. We had dialog with him about actually performing. At the end of the day, what we had heard was he just wasn’t in a place where he felt comfortable doing that. That’s completely understandable. And by the way, we hope both of them will be there, whether next year or the year after. They all have very long careers ahead of them.”

And as far as Ocean’s decision not to even enter his music for consideration, Portnow explained:

“Frank Ocean’s a different story, because he made a conscious decision to not enter his music in the process. I think that’s a personal choice. Not everybody likes or wants to be part of every organization or awards process. I respect that. What I’ll say about Frank is he did have his earlier album out at an early stage of his career, we were delighted that it was entered, we were delighted that he was a Grammy winner, we were delighted to have him on our stage, which gave him a platform very early in his career. That’s something we’re proud of, and down the line he may feel differently. Artists change their opinion. I don’t begrudge his choice at all and we’ll see what the future brings.”

It’s certainly interesting to hear an inside perspective on the politics behind the Grammys — but we wanna know…
Do U agree that there isn’t a race problem at all with the awards system?? SOUND OFF in the comments!
[Image via CBS/FayesVision/WENN.]

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Feb 16, 2017 10:10am PDT