The head of the Recording Academy also responded directly to Frank Ocean’s caustic takedown.
Grammys boss Neil Portnow has denied that the awards have a “race problem” following a backlash from artists and fans.
Solange, Frank Ocean, Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent spoke out after Beyoncé lost out on album of the year to Adele, instead receiving the prize for best urban contemporary album
Speaking to Pitchfork yesterday, Portnow said: “I don’t think there’s a race problem at all… It’s always hard to create objectivity out of something that’s inherently subjective, which is what art and music is about. We do the best we can.”
Earlier in the week, Solange pointed out that “there have only been two black winners [at the Grammys] in the last 20 years for album of the year. There have been over 200 black artists who have performed.”
Portnow believes that people don’t listen to music “based on gender or race or ethnicity,” explaining that “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.”
“It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year. And that is going to be very subjective,” he added.
Portnow explained that the 14,000 voters are asked to ignore sales, marketing and popularity and instead to just listen to the music. “We stand 100% behind the process: it’s a democratic vote by majority,” he declared. “So somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote. It could be that tight.”
However, he stated that the Recording Academy is “always working” to improve the diversity of its membership. “You don’t get Chance the Rapper as the best new artist of the year if you have a membership that isn’t diverse and isn’t open-minded and isn’t really listening to the music.”
Portnow also responded to Frank Ocean’s caustic criticism of the Grammys. “He made a conscious decision to not enter his music in the process. I think that’s a personal choice. Not everybody likes or wants to be part of every organisation or awards process. I respect that.”
“What I’ll say about Frank is he did have his earlier album out at an early stage of his career, we were delighted that it was entered, we were delighted that he was a Grammy winner, we were delighted to have him on our stage, which gave him a platform very early in his career. That’s something we’re proud of, and down the line he may feel differently. Artists change their opinion. I don’t begrudge his choice at all and we’ll see what the future brings.”