The Grammys takes place tonight, and while you would expect most conversation to centre on the nominees and upcoming performances, the reality is far more sinister.
In what has now been called an ‘explosive interview’ with the New York Times, former chief executive of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan, came forward with accusations detailing harassment, favouritism, and bullying within the company.
The article details Dugan’s swift departure from her role at the Academy, which abruptly placed her on leave after just five months on the job. The Academy accused Dugan of bullying behaviour by an assistant, before later seeking a $22 million payout to go quietly.
These claims were denied by Dugan, who launched a 44-page complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity commission that accused the academy of retaliating against her “for uncovering misconduct including sexual harassment, voting irregularities and rampant conflicts of interest among board members.”
As Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli of the New York Times explain, Dugan’s “brutal portrait of the Recording Academy as a chummy cabal of men with expense accounts, conspiring to line their pockets on the backs of musicians, harass women at will and cover it all up, seemed to confirm people’s most cynical fears about the music industry and the Grammys in particular, which have long been criticised as out of touch and lacking transparency.”
The Grammys certainly do have a poor record of racial and gender diversity, with audiences around the world calling out the show’s lack of diversity both onstage and behind the scenes. And this was even before the comment from Neil Portnow, then-longtime chief executive of the Recording academy, who met criticism of a lack of female representation with the comment that women in the industry should “step up” to advance their careers. The backlash to Portnow was swift and severe, yet it did little to encourage the executive to make a full apology. Instead, he merely said he regretted his choice of words.
Although the Academy are reportedly starting investigations into Dugan’s allegations, those in the music industry are using the opportunity to speak out. Ty Stiklorius, John Legend’s manager and a member of the academy’s diversity task force, said in an interview with the New York Times, that Dugan’s complaint “lays bare an organisation whose senior management was focused primarily on the benefits, financial and otherwise, of their longstanding privileged positions.”
Stiklorius added, “I hope that other women and anyone interested in the integrity of the Grammys joins me in sending a vocal vote of absolutely no confidence in the board.”
For some, the revelations are shocking. But for many, it’s something numerous industry insiders have suggested for quite some time. And one person who has never shied away from expressing his opinion is Kanye West, who over the course of his illustrious rap career has taken numerous swipes at the Academy – and by extension, the Grammy Awards.
Kanye, despite being one of the biggest names in music with many a successful album to his name, has noticeably not attended the Grammys since 2015. In 2012, the rapper’s albums My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne were both snubbed from the Album of the Year nomination. This prompted Kanye to say during a concert, “Since when was making art about getting rich?...Remind me again why we in this sh**?”
His frustration grew, culminating in the infamous 2015 moment when he stormed the stage in anger after Beck beat Beyonce for Album of the Year. In an interview with E! following the award ceremony, he said: “The Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We aren’t going to play with them no more. Beck needs to respect artistry, he should have given his award to Beyonce.”
Since then, a number of popular artists have questioned the legitimacy of the Grammys, amongst them Drake and Frank Ocean, the latter of which even removed his album from consideration in 2017.
It will be interesting to see how the Academy handles this intensified spotlight. One thing is clear, while they may be investigating Dugan’s accusations, a number of musicians are beginning to question the award show, and it will only be a matter of time before fans stop tuning in as an act of solidarity.