Grammys Boss Neil Portnow: ‘I Don’t Think There’s a Race Problem at All’

Nothing to see here! Grammys boss Neil Portnow said in a new interview with Pitchfork published on Tuesday, February 14, that he doesn’t believe there’s a “race problem” with the Grammy Awards, despite receiving major backlash following Beyoncé’s awards snub for Album of the Year Sunday night.

“No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all,” Portnow told the site. “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.”

Added Portnow, “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. We have 84 categories where we recognize all kinds of music, from across all spectrums. We don’t, as musicians, in my humble opinion, listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity. 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.”

Beyonce (L) and President/CEO of The Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation President/CEO Neil Portnow attend the The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Beyonce (left) and president/CEO of the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation Neil Portnow attend the 59th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. Michael Kovac/Getty Images for NARAS

Portnow, and the awards show at large, received a considerable amount of criticism after Adele took home top prizes for Song, Record and Album of the Year at the 2017 Grammys over Beyoncé, a decision that even the British singer-songwriter was shocked by. (“What the f–k does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of the Year?” the “Hello” singer demanded of reporters after the show.)

The last black artist to win Album of the Year was Herbie Hancock in 2008, and the last black woman was Lauryn Hill in 1999. A notorious shut-out of black artists is a large part of the reason why Frank Ocean opted not to submit his 2016 album, Blonde, for consideration. Beyoncé’s younger sister, Solange Knowles, seemingly shaded the Grammys after Beyoncé’s snub by retweeting Ocean’s long Tumblr rant. The tweet has since been deleted.

Adele and Beyonce attend the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Adele and Beyonce attend the 55th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles. Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

Asked about whether the demographic makeup of the voting academy — older, and often white — could have led to a “race problem” with this year’s voting, Portnow said the Grammys is always actively working to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.

“Well, they may have had a problem,” he said in reference to the Academy Awards, which was plagued with accusations of #OscarsSoWhite last year. “We don’t have that kind of an issue in that same fashion. But we are always working on increasing diversity in membership, whether it’s ethnicity, gender, genre, or age. In order to maintain our relevance, we have to be refreshing all the time, and we have to be doing that across the board.”

In her acceptance speech for Album of the Year, Adele, 28, gushed over Beyoncé and her influential music. “I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled and very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé,” she said. “And the album, to me — the Lemonade album — Beyoncé, was so monumental and so well-thought-out. And so beautiful and soul-baring, and we all got to see another side of you that you don’t always let us see, and we appreciate that. And all us artists adore you. You are our light. And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you. I always have.”

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