How do the Grammy Awards work and why are they so controversial?

As a number of big-name artists hit out at this year's nominations, we look into the voting process

epa05790152 Adele holds up her awards in the press room during the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 12 February 2017. Adele won the awards Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album, with the album '25' and song 'Hello.'  EPA/MIKE NELSON
Powered by automated translation

Last week, the Grammy Awards released its list of nominees for its 2021 ceremony, and caused some major A-list upset in the process.

The Weeknd was snubbed, Justin Bieber's album was, according to the star, nominated in the wrong genre, and Nicky Nicki Minaj used the opportunity to remind her fans that, despite 10 nominations throughout her career, she is still yet to take home a coveted award.

“The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency,” The Weeknd – real name Abel Tesfaye – said in a tweet.

The "transparency" the Starboy singer is referring to is the process – kept secret – by which the nominations are selected, as is the identity of those on the committees who choose the nominees.

So how exactly do the Grammy Awards work?

The Grammy Awards nomination and decision-making process is carried out by the Recording Academy. Described as the world's leading society of music professionals, the academy is made up of voting, professional and student members, all of whom are artists, producers or music students.

Voting for the Grammy Awards can only be done by members of the Recording Academy. To become a member, candidates must receive two "strong recommendations" from music industry peers. New member submissions are considered by the Recording Academy's Peer Review Panel each spring.

The Grammy Awards are broken down into 84 categories across 30 genres, with members of the academy and registered media companies invited to submit entries for consideration. The eligibility of entries is determined by more than 350 experts, with final decisions made by voting members of the academy.

The first round of voting determines the nominees, with members only able to vote in their specific area of expertise. They can also vote across the awards’ four general categories: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.

Once the nominees have been determined, voting members of the academy can vote in up to 15 genre-specific categories, as well as across the four general categories. Votes are counted by independent accounting firm Deloitte, and the results are kept confidential until the night of the awards.


See pictures from the 2020 Grammy Awards red carpet:


Why the controversy?

The Grammy Awards has been the subject of much controversy in the past. Not only has it been criticised for a lack of transparency when it comes to its members and the decision-making process, it has also been pulled up for its lack of diversity on many occasions.

For example, in 2018, just 11 out of the 84 winners were women. Then-chief executive of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, said that women needed to “step up” if they wanted to actually win awards. Needless to say, he was ousted shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Deborah Dugan, who was tasked with revamping the awards’ culture.

In 2020, the academy announced a number of diversity initiatives in response to continued criticism by artists such as Drake and Nicki Minaj, and while 2021's nominations do appear more diverse, it seems many artists believe the awards have not done enough.

Who is nominated for the 20201 Grammy Awards?

epa08840146 (FILE) - US singer Beyonce poses in the press room during the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA (reissued 24 November 2020). Beyonce was nominated for nine awards at the 63rd Grammy Awards, making her the most-nominated female artist in Grammy history with a total of 79 in her career. The 63rd Grammy Awards will be broadcasted on 31 January 2021.  EPA/MIKE NELSON
Beyonce poses in the press room during the 59th annual Grammy Awards ceremony. EPA

Beyonce leads the 2021 nominees with nine nods, making her the second-most nominated Grammy artist in history, with a total of 79 nominations.

British singer Dua Lipa, pop star Taylor Swift and rapper Roddy Ricch got six nominations apiece.

Swift and Dua Lipa will compete for the top prize, Album of the Year, along with RnB singer Post Malone, British band Coldplay, US band Haim, avant-garde British musician Jacob Collier, American soul band Black Pumas and American alternative RnB singer Jhene Aiko.

Billboard called the nominations for Album, Record, Song of the Year and Best New Artist surprising for the range of "superstar nominees as well as out-of-nowhere newcomers".

Bob Dylan, 79, was a no-show despite acclaim for his first album of new music in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, while established artists such as Katy Perry, Maren Morris, The Chicks, Halsey and the Jonas Brothers all got zero nominations.

But K-Pop sensations BTS got their first major Grammy nod, for single Dynamite in the Best Pop Duo / Group Performance category, a breakthrough by a South Korean group.

The Best New Artist field included rappers Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat, as well as alternative artist Phoebe Bridgers and Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of Miley Cyrus.

Women, including Fiona Apple, Brittany Howard and newcomer Ingrid Andress, packed the rock and country music fields, while Britain's Harry Styles got his first Grammy love with three nods for his work on album Fine Line.