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Grammys head insists the Grammys aren’t racist

Neil Portnow, presumably accepting a Grammy for being the head of the Grammys (Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

That the Grammys remain in the news cycle three days after its tech-problem-plagued ceremonies must delight Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy. His excitement might have been tempered somewhat by the actual headlines, which have been questioning the awards body’s continuing relevance, or touched on the perceived racism in the categories as well as the selection of winners. So Portnow spoke with Pitchfork about all the recent fuss, which he insists is just that.

Portnow’s asked early on whether the Grammys has, as has been suggested, a race problem when only 10 black artists have ever won Album Of The Year, and it’s been nearly 10 years since a black artist won the award. The Recording Academy head denies such claims, arguing that the Grammys are “peer-voted,” and with 14,000 members voting—who are “experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry”—diversity just isn’t a concern. As he puts it: “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—at least the way that I approach it—is you almost put a blindfold on and you listen.”


From there, Portnow describes the voting body, which is made up of governors and a board of trustees. He doesn’t give any info on the demographics of the organization, but Rolling Stone notes “old” and “white” are fair assumptions. But don’t worry about that, because, as Portnow points out, that same group named Chance The Rapper this year’s Best New Artist, which wouldn’t have happened if they had 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.” Maybe next year he’ll explain what the hell “urban contemporary” music is.

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