Major changes ahead of 63rd Grammy Awards

Late icon Whitney Houston was famously ruled ineligible in the ‘Best New Artist’ at the 28th Grammy Awards in 1985. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: The Recording Academy has announced sweeping changes to its rules and guidelines, in an effort to ensure that “the Grammy Awards nominating process and rules are more transparent and fair.”

These rule amendments were voted on in a May 2020 board of trustees meeting, and will be in place for the forthcoming 63rd ceremony of the Grammy Awards, which is scheduled for Jan 31, 2021.

Four categories have been renamed and redefined, all of which traditionally include black and Latinx artists.

Among them are the category formerly known as “Best Urban Contemporary Album,” which has been renamed “Best Progressive R&B Album” “to appropriately categorise and describe this sub-genre.”

This award is intended to celebrate albums “that include the more progressive elements of R&B,” although they may include “samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music” as well as “production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative.”

The name change of the former “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category makes no explicit reference to growing criticisms of “urban” as a musical descriptor.

Earlier this June, the label Republic Records vowed to remove the term from department names, employee titles and music genres.

The “Best Rap/Sung Performance” award has also been renamed “Best Melodic Rap Performance,” while “Latin Pop Album” and “Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album” are respectively known as “Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album” and “Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album.”

The definitions of all these categories have also shifted in an effort to represent “the inclusivity of the growing hybrid performance trends within the rap genre,” as well as “the broad spectrum of the Latin music style and culture.”

However, the introduction of the word “urban” into the former “Latin rock and alternative category” is at odds with the recent decision of Remezcla to abandon the terms “urbano” and “música urbana” when referring to reggaetón, Latin trap, dembow and other genres generally classified under the same umbrella.

“Within Latin music, ‘urbano’ serves as a catch-all term for a diverse melange of Caribbean genres including Latin trap and reggaetón, but the term comes with a fraught and problematic history reeking of exclusion and othering, defining the beloved genres many artists fought for,” the Latin American media company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Recording Academy has also announced the expansion of eligibility in the “Best New Artist” category, lifting the traditional limit of 30 tracks released prior to the start of the current eligibility year.

“As such, the screening committees will be charged with determining whether the artist had attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year,” the organisation noted in a statement.

Considered one of the four biggest Grammy prizes, the 30-song limit of the “Best New Artist” category was criticised in the past for excluding prolific performers like Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Barbra Streisand.

That was also the case for Whitney Houston, who was disallowed from competing in the category at the 28th Grammy Awards because she had released a pair of duets with Jermaine Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass prior to the release of her 1985 self-titled debut album.

This is not the first time that the Recording Academy redefines the categories of the Grammy Awards. The organisation announced a flurry of changes in 2011, famously trimming the awards categories from 109 down to 78.