Recording Academy President Neil Portnow denied allegations of racial bias during a recent interview with Pitchfork in wake of recent controversy surrounding British soul singer Adele’s Album of the Year win over cultural icon Beyoncé.
After Sunday’s glamorous ceremony, the Grammys was accused of racism and subjected to heavy criticism for not awarding Album of the Year to Beyoncé’s 2016 visual album “Lemonade.” Instead, British soul singer Adele took home the honor for “25.”
“I don’t think there’s a race problem at all,” Portnow told Pitchfork Tuesday, Feb. 14. “Remember, this is a peer-voted award. So, when we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity, it’s the 14,000 members of the academy. They have to qualify in order to be members, which means they have to have recorded and released music, and so they are sort of the experts and the highest level of professionals in the industry.”
It should be noted that over the 59-year history of the Grammys, there have been only 12 Black Album of the Year winners and three of them were albums from R&B legend Stevie Wonder.
“Lemonade” was a celebration of Black womanhood that addressed and commented on issues specifically pertaining to the Black community. Beyoncé fans felt the Recording Academy got it wrong because of the album’s cultural significance. While accepting the award, Adele herself admitted to being taken aback, saying she felt “Lemonade” deserved the win. She also won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance, all for “Hello.”
Portnow said that voters are not supposed to look at sales, marketing, popularity and charts. The voters’ job is to listen to records, make up their minds and vote their consciences.
“Now, here’s the other interesting part of the process and we stand 100 percent behind the process: It’s a democratic vote by majority,” he explained. “So, somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote. It could be that tight.”
Portnow cited Chance the Rapper’s wins that night as a sign of racial and cultural diversity in the academy: “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, and not really considering other elements beyond how great the music is.”