Last Updated on April 30, 2021 by Scott Shetler
Without review committees, acts like Janelle Monae, Haim, and Childish Gambino will get passed over for Album of the Year nominations in favor of inoffensive, middle-of-the-road choices like U2 and Ed Sheeran…
In a surprise move today, the Grammy Awards have announced they will be eliminating “review committees,” the small groups of music industry insiders who curated the nominees in most top Grammy categories. This change takes places immediately, starting with next year’s 2022 Grammys.
The Grammys have come under huge criticism in recent years, especially in 2021 when the Weekend was shockingly shut out, so this move is being celebrated by some as a move in the direction of transparency and equality, so that all artists can compete on a level playing field.
But be careful what you wish for. The reason these committees were created in the first place was because the Grammys had to protect themselves from the embarrassing decisions made by their rank-and-file voters. The job of these committees was to weed out the really embarrassing nominees and keep the good ones. (They often failed at this task, but at least they were trying.)
What’s going to happen now in the major categories without the committees? Expect a return to the ’80s and ’90s, when the most bland, middle-of-the-road music got all the nominations. This isn’t going to be pretty.
Why the Secret Grammy Review Committees Were Necessary
The review committees were also known as “quality control committees,” and for good reason. One of the great benefits of these committees was their ability to highlight lesser-known artists in major categories, giving them a platform they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
In recent years, acts like H.E.R., Jacob Collier, Chika, Brandi Carlile, Black Pumas, and Rosalia all benefited from this. Without these committees, emerging artists like these will no longer have much chance to be nominated in the biggest categories.
Instead, we’re going to see every major category filled with the biggest names who record the most inoffensive pop music. Expect to see a whole lot more of Taylor Swift, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, and the like. Maroon 5 now likely stands a better chance of getting an Album of the Year nod than Janelle Monae. That’s obscene. But it’s our new Grammy reality.
We’re also going to see a whole lot of veterans and legendary acts who are way past their prime getting nominated simply due to name recognition. Don’t be shocked when U2 gets yet another Album of the Year nomination after their next release, while more interesting acts like Haim and Childish Gambino will find it much harder to get nominated in that category again.
To see the positive effect these committees had, go back to 1995, the last year before Album of the Year had a review committee. That year, the nominees were the most middle-of-the-road pop acts you can possibly imagine: Seal, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, and the Three Tenors. The nearly 70-year-old Bennett won, in what was quite an embarrassment for the Grammys.
Meanwhile, with a review committee in 1996, Album of the Year nominees included Pearl Jam, Alanis Morissette, and Joan Osborne. That group of nominees was younger, more vibrant, and far more relevant.
Go back and read what people were saying when these committees were created in 1996, and you’ll get a better sense of why they were absolutely necessary.
What the Recording Academy Should’ve Done Instead
The Grammys do have a lot of problems, and they were still failing in many cases to nominate the right acts. The problem was not the existence of the review committees. The problem was the fact that these committees were made up of the wrong people.
They were secret, so how do we know they were made up of the wrong people? By looking at their choices, obviously. Nominating Coldplay for Album of the Year over Fiona Apple and Phoebe Bridgers this year was insane. Unfortunately, choices like this were all-too common.
If the Grammys had simply added more respected pop and rock music critics to these committees, the same people who put together the Rolling Stone and Pitchfork and Spin year-end lists, the Grammy nominees would look much different. And much better. That’s all that was needed. A small tweak. Instead, the Grammys chose the nuclear option. And that could have very unintended consequences.
Remember when a complete unknown named Al Walser schmoozed his way into a Best Dance Recording nomination by making friends on the Recording Academy’s social media website? Not long after that, the Academy rightfully added a review committee to the Dance field so that sort of thing could never happen again. Well, now that the committees are gone… there’s nothing stopping the Al Walsers of the world from once again stealing nominations from rightfully deserving artists.
Review committees allowed the Country music field to regularly nominate high-quality artists instead of the mindless bro-country dudes who dominated the genre’s charts over the past several years. Review committees helped out in many of the Grammy genre categories. Music fans aren’t going to fully grasp how necessary these committees were until they see how the nominees look without them.
Many music listeners seem to be cheering the decision to eliminate the Grammy review committees. But let’s check back in another year or two to see how things look then.
Who knows? Maybe the rank-and-file Grammy voters will surprise me and make awesome choices. But I’m betting that by 2023, after a couple years of subpar nominees, people will be clamoring for the review committees to return. Anybody who remembers how the Grammys looked in the ’80s and ’90s knows that this probably isn’t going to end well.