Why was Kacey Musgraves disqualified from Grammy Country nominations?

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Grammy nominations are always loaded with drama, but it started earlier this year – six weeks before the nominations were even announced – when Kacey Musgraves’ label president sent a passionate letter to the head of the Recording Academy. Harvey Mason jr. Sunday, imploring him to reconsider the decision not to count Musgraves’ new album, “Star-Crossed”, in the country categories of the 2022 Grammys.

While Mason is the head of the Recording Academy, technically the decision was not made by him: it was made by the Academy’s Country Selection Committee, an anonymous group of artists, creatives. , executives and others who determine which recordings belong to which genre categories. (Their identities are not made public to avoid outside influence.) The selection committees are distinct from the controversial “secret” nominating committees, which previously determined the final lists of candidates after the largest electorate had voted on them. , and were eliminated earlier this year after years of criticism and self-interest accusations, the Weeknd was shockingly excluded from all nominations last year.

This year – according to the letter to Mason from Musgraves label president, Universal Music Group Nashville Cindy Mabe – the country selection committee determined that the singer’s new album actually fell into the pop categories. This is actually a legitimate argument for virtually any discerning music fan who listens to “Star-Crossed”, but is dramatically contradicted by the fact that the album sounds stylistically similar to (and was created by many of the same people as) the precedent of Musgraves. effort, “Golden Hour,” which won Album of the Year in 2019 – and three country Grammys.

Among many other points – including the low representation of long-time women in country Grammy nominees, not to mention country radio – Mabe effectively accuses the members of the selection committee of acting in their personal interest, feeling that the Eliminating Musgraves from the country category would create opportunities for the artists they favor.

“The idea that a handful of people, including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, decide which country the country is only exacerbates the problem,” Mabe wrote in his letter. to the head of the Academy. “The system is down and unfortunately not just for Kacey Musgraves but for all of our genre because of the way these decisions are made for the bigger music scene. Building roadblocks for artists who dare to fight the system is so dangerous and against everything I think the Grammy stand for. But that’s where we are today.

But is this really what happened? Nashville insider recounts Variety that the selection committee reviewed Musgraves’ album track by track and decided that even though there was some no more country tracks, there weren’t enough of them to be considered a true country album. And while one could certainly give “Golden Hour” the same test and come to the same conclusion, the selection committees generally have at least different members each year. “If you put a gun to my head I couldn’t tell you if it’s country or pop,” the insider said – a comment that could be made about a number of ostensibly country albums of recent years.

The insider also said that the country selection committee sent the album to the pop committee to see which category the album fell into, and would have reinstated it in the country category if pop rejected it – but the pop committee did agreed that this genre was the rightful home. for “Star-Crossed”.

After Mabe and Musgraves manager Jason Owen learned of the result and made his objections known, the Recording Academy took what is considered an unusual move to further settle the case, sources say. The pop or country issue was taken to the central committee, which usually only oversees the four major general categories, to see what its members, who represent a number of different genres, were thinking. The central committee also agreed: it is above all a pop album.

The decision was split, however: a song Musgraves and his label submitted as a country song, “Camera Roll,” remained in the country song category.

As for the controversial decision on the album itself: “I can argue both sides, because they are both very legitimate,” says an insider. “But if the country committee had an agenda, the pop committee wouldn’t have the same agenda. You have 20 or more people in a room, and that room went to three different rooms, ”that is, the country selection committee, followed by the pop committee, followed by the final central committee. In the end, there were over 60 people involved in making or certifying the decision, “and they pretty much all said, ‘This is a pop record.'”

This scenario, which is not only possible but likely according to Grammy insiders, essentially attributes the decision to musical differences, although it is rare to find creatives or qualified executives to sit on selection committees who have not. at least some interest in the final. list of candidates, even if they are supposed to recuse themselves when such decisions strike too close to home.

Isn’t Musgraves the first to take on the country is-or-isn’t she? question. More famous still, Taylor Swift went from country categories to pop categories before her – but it was because of her choice, when “1989” was submitted for (and won in) the pop categories after she had finished. previously competed only in the country. division, as well as general categories. It happened after she went public before the album, stating that she had “chosen a path,” and the track was pop. His music has always been pop to some extent, but “1989” made it more categorical by essentially abandoning acoustic guitars, mandolins and violins in favor of keyboards and electronics. While these gender-based conversations often take place in Academy halls, they rarely make headlines; twice they did it was when Beyonce’s “Daddy Issues” was not allowed to compete in the country, as a submissive, and when Justin Bieber protested that his music, which had been submitted as R&B, had become pop.

While Musgraves never made a Swift-like statement that she went pop, like Swift did, a commercial movement may have done it for her: Earlier this year, she signed a new deal that saw “Star-Crossed” release jointly via UMG Nashville and Interscope, a more pop-up Universal label that is home to Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and a host of hip-hop superstars. And his Nashville label didn’t take any of the songs on country radio. It is difficult to imagine that these movements went unnoticed by the selection committee.

For his part, Musgraves weighed in on Wednesday afternoon with a characteristic tongue-in-cheek Tweet:

Mabe describes the Musgraves’ disqualification as a dark hour for country music. “I haven’t slept the whole weekend because I’m really sad for our format,” she wrote. “I am sad for the fans of our music and the ramifications of how we will continue to define success in country music. This one-sided and one-sided move will send ripples throughout our format to continue to ensure the message is sent that country music can only be for a small number of people who enjoy the same perspective. “

Fair points, and it is possible that Mabe’s self-interest accusations are valid; it’s a business after all, and a Grammy Award isn’t just the music world’s greatest honor, it’s an almost guaranteed increase in sales and profile. The Recording Academy’s Nashville block is also notoriously powerful and would not hesitate to wield that power. It’s also not hard to see why it might be in the best interests of Musgraves and her label to keep her within the country division: one of five nominated locations for the pop album.

It’s also possible that when the nominations are finally revealed on November 23, Musgraves will have this nomination for Best Country Song for “Camera Roll,” which would at least reduce the intensity of this conundrum (but not the confusion). But in an age when the Grammy Awards are working hard to come out of years of inappropriate controversy, at least this one seems to be about music.

Representatives of the Recording Academy, Musgraves and Mabe did not immediately respond to Varietyrequests for comments.


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