Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

A conversation with Grammy Interim President, Harvey Mason Jr.

Grammy Interim President and Chief Director Harvey Mason Jr. addresses the award show’s long-standing lack of diversity.

One month following the 63rd Grammy Awards, interim President and Chief Director of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason Jr. joined Annenberg Dean Willow Bay in a conversation about the award show and his time at the Academy. After plans of postponing or canceling the show, the Academy decided to move forward with the 2021 Grammys. The show received high praise for the success of the historic online event, proving that live music could still thrive during a pandemic.

While reflecting on the goals of the 63rd Grammy Awards, Mason acknowledged that the Academy’s priority was first to entertain people and bring content to its viewers. “[The Academy] felt that music plays a role in our culture and society. Bringing people together was much needed at that point. We wanted to create a show that was entertaining, and special, and unifying,” Mason said.

When reflecting on his personal goals for the 2021 Grammy show, Mason said he hoped this show would signify change. He said he “wanted to make sure that [the Academy] is listening and hearing people who are giving feedback.” Mason was adamant about “making the Academy look under the hood at everything [they] did.”

“[The Academy] is at the point now where we’re more representative and more reflective, allowing us to continue moving forward with the artists and honoring them,” said Mason, which was evident in the awards given at the 63rd Grammy show.

Mason mentioned that this year’s awards and nominations were the most diverse in the history of the show. “Personally, we know we had work to do, that’s why I ran for chair. I believe in our organization, but I thought that we could do better, with a more inclusive approach” Mason said.

Mason reflected on the changes that he felt made the most impact on the Academy thus far. “It starts with who is leading the Academy – who’s on our board, who’s on our executive committee” Mason said. According to Mason, this year’s Grammy board committees had 50/50 gender parity. He mentioned being close to meeting the goal of bringing 25,000 women into the Academy within the next two years. Mason also acknowledged the Black Music Collective, which has helped the Academy highlight black voices within the industry.

Despite the praise for this year’s Grammy Awards, Mason addressed some of the criticism that the Academy received this past year, one of them being that the Grammys limit artists on what category that their music fits into. As an attempt to be more inclusive, the Academy replaced “Best Urban Contemporary Album” with “Best Progressive R&B Album” for the 2021 awards. However, they received backlash about their failure to address this change for other categories, such as “Best Latin Pop or Urban Album.”

“Without the categories, it would open up competition that could potentially be unfair if you’re putting artists with big-name recognition along with others that don’t quite get the visibility,” Mason said. Mason broke down the committee’s protocol when reviewing a submission, assuring that the Academy had a thoughtful process of categorizing musical work.

Mason spoke on the alignment of goals that he has with the rest of the organization, stating that its hope is “to use its platform for good.” The Academy publicly released data this year on how it is nominating artists in an effort to be transparent and accountable as an organization. Mason noted that while every year there are slight changes that are made in the nomination process, “this year there are discussions of big changes that will impact how we come to nominations and who is being awarded.”

Mason looks forward to how the music industry will bounce back as regulations loosen and artists can get back into recording studios. He views this transitional period as an opportunity to continue making changes, not only in the Grammys but in the music industry.

“I want to use our platform [to] do good with it, [make] a difference and make improvements within society,” said Mason. “It sounds maybe like an overly aggressive or lofty goal, but I believe music has a place in culture and that we can use our platform to make things better and make things right.”