Recording Academy aims for a more focused Grammys, slashes 31 categories
This post has been updated. See note below for details.
The 2012 Grammy Awards will look a little trimmer as the Recording Academy on Wednesday unveiled a massive overhaul of its categories and voting process, most notably slashing the number of nominated categories by 31 to 78. The Grammys had swelled from 28 categories in 1959 to 109 at the most recently televised awards in which the Arcade Fire were a surprise win for album of the year.
"The message isn't anything about cutting," said Recording Academy President and Chief Executive Neil Portnow at a Wednesday press conference.
Instead, the Grammy czar said the academy had previously taken a "collage" approach that lacked a specific vision and noted that changes to the Grammy format began in earnest in 2009 -- the same year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences altered the Academy Awards, upping the number of nominated best picture films from five to 10.
"This growth," Portnow said of the past increases in Grammy categories, "springs from a tradition of honoring specific genres and/or subgenres within a field, and it has basically been approached one category at a time without a current overall guiding vision and without consistency across the various genre fields."
The official Grammy site has posted a category-by-category comparison. Some of the most noted changes include the cutting of the "best contemporary R&B album" category and going with the more simplified best R&b album. In recent years, artists such as Mary J. Blige had jumped back and forth from best contemporary to best R&B album without any rhyme or reason, as the contemporary field lacked an easy definition.
Elsewhere, the best rap performance by a duo or group has been streamlined to best rap performance, and seven Latin categories have been condensed to four. Since the launch of the Latin Grammys in 2000, many have questioned the need to repeat some of the Latin categories at the broader Grammy Awards.
The American roots music field has been heavily trimmed, going from nine categories down to five, doing away with best zydeco/Cajun music album, and combining best traditional folk album and best contemporary folk album into the more direct best folk album. The pop and rock fields have also been given a clearer directive. No longer will best pop solo performance be divided by the sexes, as best female pop vocal performance and best male pop vocal performance are now a thing of the past. Likewise, best rock instrumental performance and best rock solo vocal performance can now be found in best rock performance.
Portnow was asked whether the changes will result the Grammys becoming even more of a popularity contest, as there was some grumbling in industry quarters that the Arcade Fire beat out such household names as Eminem and Lady Gaga. No, responded Portnow, who said those interested in seeing only the familiar walk away with trophies should direct their attention to other music award programs, which Portnow dismissed as "variety shows."
Other Grammy changes are more of the behind-the-scenes ilk.
In order for a category to receive a full five albums, there must be at least 40 submissions. If anywhere between 25 and 39 albums/artists are submitted, there will be only three nominated releases. If a category fewer than 25 submissions, it will go on "hiatus." Submissions to a category headed for hiatus will be reassigned to "the next most appropiate" category, read the official rule changes.
Additionally, voters have been granted more freedom, as they may now vote in up to 20 genre categories rather than nine fields. The genre votes are in addition to the four general field nominations -- album, record and song of the year, as well as best new artist.
Updated, 3:11 p.m. April 7:
This originally said a category needed a minimum of 50 submissions. It is 40. The post has been revised to reflect that. Additionally. in 2010 voters were allowed to vote in nine fields rather than nine categories. The post has been clarified to reflect that.
Photo: The Arcade Fire at the 2010 Grammy Awards. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times