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Grammys CEO on Controversial Nominees Dave Chappelle, Louis CK: “Our Job Is to Evaluate the Art”

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Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. has been nominated for five Grammys in the past but he’s never won the honor.

That could change at the 2023 Grammy awards — sort of.

Mason Jr. co-wrote Toni Braxton’s 2000 hit “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” which Burna Boy sampled for his latest hit “Last Last.” The song earned a nomination for best global music performance Tuesday.

“It’s honestly an honor,” Mason jr. tells The News84Media. “Somebody had asked me, ‘Does that make you feel old (when) somebody samples your song?’ And I think just the opposite. It makes me feel really, really thankful and appreciative that somebody thought it was a good enough song to try and recycle, and they’ve done something original with it. I love Burna Boy. I love what he does. He’s so creative in the way that he’s used that song. To me it was really exciting and fresh.”

Mason Jr. became interim Academy CEO in January 2020 and earned the official title in May 2021. The songwriter-producer’s Grammy nominations include nods for album of the year for Justin Timberlake’s 2002 solo debut. Justifiedbest R&B song for “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” best compilation soundtrack for Dreamgirls and Pitch Perfect 2 and best musical theater album for Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert.

In an interview with THRthe musician and music executive talks about Burna Boy’s nomination, controversial figures like Dave Chappelle and Louis CK being up for awards and Drake’s nominations though he didn’t submit his latest album to the music show.

How does it feel to see “Last Last” be recognized with a nomination since you have an attachment to it?

A big part of music throughout my career has been collaboration and iteration, almost taking something that’s happened before you were inspired by that. You’re kind of motivated to create something new. I think this is a really nice form of flattery, that they took that song and did with it what they did. Of course, I got my fingers crossed for that one.

You’ve been busy leading the Academy, but have you had a chance to write and produce music, or is that something that you’re leaving alone for a bit?

No, I’m still doing it. I work out of my studio pretty much on a daily basis as we do Academy business. I go in and create at night and in the evening, so I’m still up to my old tricks. I definitely don’t have as much time, but I try to stay in the studio. My kids are all grown up. I don’t have any pets. My wife is really nice. She lets me work a lot, so I stay very, very busy.

Dave Chappelle and Louis CK are nominated and I’m sure some people will feel a way about it. What are your thoughts on controversial folks being nominated for Grammys?

Well, we don’t control who the voters vote for. If the voters feel like a creator deserves a nomination, they’re going to vote for them. The thing that we can control is making sure that people that attend our events feel safe. If there’s someone that’s been nominated that we don’t necessarily agree with, we’re not going to remove a nomination.

We’re never going to be in the business of deciding someone’s moral position or where we evaluate them to be on the scale of morality. I think our job is to evaluate the art and the quality of the art. We can make sure that all of our spaces are safe and people don’t feel threatened by anyone. But as far as the nominations or the awards, we really let the voters make that decision.

Drake was someone who didn’t submit this year, but he’s nominated four times for his collaborations, so his presence is felt. What’s your response to that?

Well, it’s a good question. I think I’m always pleased to see anyone nominated because I know how darn hard it is. I’ve been nominated five times. I haven’t won, by the way, which I’m not happy about, but I’ve been nominated, so I know what those nominations mean and I know how important and how special they are. When I see anybody nominated, first off, I think huge congratulations.

When you start talking about who’s submitting and who’s not submitting, it’s not something we can really control. I personally would love to see as many artists submit as possible. I don’t care if you’re new in the game (or if) you’ve been in the game (forever). I think the Academy is a place for all music people, whether you’re young, old, male, female, you play banjo, you rap. I don’t care what it is. This is a place where we honor and we respect music.

Do I want to see every artist in it? Absolutely. I want to have the ability to recognize the best music of the year, so anytime somebody doesn’t submit, it’s something that I pay close attention to. We, as an Academy, pay close attention to it and we want to continue to work to make sure this is a place that people want to be a part of.

ABBA stunned with a nomination for the 2022 show, and they’re back again. Were you surprised to see them nominated in two of the big four categories?

I thought that was really cool. I’m imagining that there’s probably a bunch of new people that are going to get exposed to their music. They’ve been doing great music for so, so long, and they changed music — the way they write and perform songs. To me, I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to honor them. They haven’t gotten a lot of nominations in the past, so for that, I’m really happy. I think it’ll be cool to see them have a part in this year’s show.

Diana Ross also scored her first nomination since the 1983 Grammys. She’s also never won a Grammy. Is this a reminder to legacy acts to still submit their work for Grammys?

You don’t know what’s going to resonate with the voters, whether it’s an iconic artist like Diana or it’s an up-and-comer or somebody who’s at the very peak of their career. The members and the voters have been asked and tasked to listen to the music and evaluate it on its merit. You’re not trying to do sentimental votes. You’re not supposed to have an agenda. You’re not supposed to look at who’s popular, who used to be popular, who’s going to be popular. It’s about the music. When you see the nomination, it’s really something that makes you realize the voters are honoring her, and that’s what makes the Grammys special. It’s not about all the other stuff. It’s about your peers recognizing what you did this year, and that’s what I think is so cool about the Grammys.

In the main categories, six of 10 songs up for record and song of the year are by solo female artists, and five of the 10 album of the year nominees are solo female artists. Five solo female acts, along with three groups, are up for best new artist. What’s it like to see women dominate in these top categories this year?

It’s really satisfying because we’ve done a lot of work around that and trying to make sure that we’re bringing more women into the organization. We had a goal of 2,500 new women by 2025. We’re almost at that goal. In fact, we’re at 77 percent right now. To see that work is paying dividends, to me it is very satisfying. There’s still more work to do there and seeing the results makes us want to work harder and continue some of the initiatives that we’ve set off on already.



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