But the Grammys are an especially public target, and whether the academy’s moves will satisfy its critics is unclear. They come after a bruising conflict with the academy’s last chief, Deborah Dugan, who was brought in as a change agent yet dismissed after five months on the job — and just days before last year’s ceremony. The academy said she mistreated an employee, but Dugan said she was retaliated against for criticizing the institution. In a legal complaint, she accused the academy of voting improprieties and rampant conflicts of interest. Her case is in arbitration, and both sides declined to comment about it.
The conflict with the Weeknd goes to the heart of concerns that the Grammys’ voting procedure is flawed. It also illustrates the fulcrum that the Grammys are supposed to represent between art and commerce: Its purpose is to recognize the work that its members — artists, producers and songwriters — value most highly, but the academy inevitably faces pressure to reward success.
Chris Anokute, a longtime music executive, said he trusts Mason as a leader but is less trusting of what happens behind closed doors at the academy. The Weeknd, Anokute said, “clearly made the album of the year,” at least as far as popularity goes.
“If his peers didn’t vote for him, that’s a shame — if that’s the truth,” Anokute said. “We don’t really believe that’s the truth; there’s just no way. But we really don’t know.”
For viewers at home, these issues may be invisible. The Grammys, originally planned for January, were postponed six weeks over concerns about the spread of coronavirus in California. The show’s new executive producer, Ben Winston, has designed the Grammys as an antidote to disconnected pandemic awards shows that feel like video conferences.
Performances will occur on five stages, arranged facing each other in the round, near the awards’ usual home of the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Some will be taped, some live, but the continuity of their presentation will make it hard to tell which is which.