Compared to every other major awards show, the rules for the Grammy Awards have always been a little complicated (and yes, we know it’s a big compliment to refer to the Grammys as a major awards show). Chalk it up to the way music consumption and production have changed over the years, but it’s always been unclear what separates an album from a record or why an artist on their second or third album can win Best New Artist. Also, the word “urban” is all over the place in the Grammy categories, and wow, we don’t need to be doing that anymore, right? Well, some of the Grammy rules are now going to be different, with Billboard reporting that the Recording Academy has announced a total of nine new changes that will be in place for next year’s ceremony.
First up, in the Best New Artist category, the rules previously stated that an artist was only eligible for that award if they had not released more than 30 tracks before that year. This rule has now been dropped due to the arbitrary nature of that number, with Billboard explaining that rap and hip-hop artists tend to release a lot more tracks at a time than artists in other categories. Simply by working hard to be prolific and establish a career, they could bounce themselves out of eligibility. Now, the limit has just been completely eliminated, with the Recording Academy saying it will just determine eligibility on a “case-by-case basis.” Will this help the viewers at home understand why someone who has been around for a few years can still win Best New Artist? No, it will not—but it will make things easier for the people who want to win Best New Artist, so that’s something.
The next three rules are about moving and renaming categories. Best Urban Contemporary Album will now be Best Progressive R&B Album, with Billboard explaining that “some in the industry think the term ‘urban’ is outdated and racially insensitive. The poorly named Best Rap/Sung Collaboration will now simply be Best Melodic Rap Performance, opening the door for nominations that aren’t a collaboration (which was already unofficially the case, given previous winners like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” which was not a collaboration). Finally, Best Latin Rock, Urban, Or Contemporary Album will now become Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album, with the artists who would previously qualify under “Urban” now being moved to Best Latin Pop Album (which is being changed to Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album). Regarding that name, Harvey Mason Jr., the Recording Academy’s interim President/CEO, says that “there isn’t the sensitivity about the world ‘urban’ in the Latin music world that there is in the Black music world.”
Next, in an attempt to avoid, say, handing out 10 Grammys to the cast of Hamilton, the number of performers who can win for Best Musical Theater Album has been capped at four. That means Hamilton 2 will have to actually rank its “principal vocalists,” unless everyone agrees to be good about sharing custody of the four Grammy trophies. In retrospect, this might not be a big enough deal to warrant its own paragraph—no offense to the cast of Hamilton 2, which we assume will include Ben Platt as Cyber King George.
The final four changes are little industry, but we’ll acknowledge them here since we’ve already come so far: There are now stricter rules on avoiding conflicts of interest among members of nomination review committees, with people who knowingly choose not to disclose a conflict of interest being barred from future nomination review committees. Also, members of nomination review committees will have to take breaks every three years to encourage more turnover, and in an effort to encourage more flexibility to these rules, proposals for changes that fail to be approved will no longer be barred from consideration the following year. Finally, the official Grammy Awards Rulebook is now available to the public, so you could’ve just read all of this yourself. Ha, scrolling this far has proven to be as foolish and unnecessary as Cyber King George’s tax on RAM in the hit musical Hamilton 2!