Nominees for the 60th annual Grammy Awards were revealed this morning, and Avenged Sevenfold, August Burns Red, Code Orange and Nothing More are among the many artists to be recognized this year. If you’ve ever browsed through the categories and wondered why Metallica are categorized as “Rock” and not “Metal” or how one artist can be labeled with two different genres, you definitely aren’t alone. That’s why we caught up with Senior VP of Awards at the Recording Academy, Bill Freimuth, to learn more about how the Recording Academy decide which genre an artist, song or album is classified.
“We’re in an era in which people are trying to get away from genre labels, I think to a large extent,” Freimuth says. “You see how electronic dance music is influencing rock and pop and R&B music, and you see how rap music is influencing pop and rock, and you see how R&B music is influencing pop and jazz, and it really seems to be churning a lot right now [with] a lot of cross-pollination, which, in my mind, generally makes for more interesting, great music.”
With so many artists obliterating the confines of traditional genre labels, it’s no surprise there are artists who often end up being nominated in two different genres for the same awards year. You might remember that last year Twenty One Pilots were nominated in two genres: Pop and Rock. And it’s actually pretty common for one artist to be nominated in two genre fields. This year, Leonard Cohen is nominated in both the Rock and the American Roots fields.
One important thing to remember is that while an artist might be associated with a particular genre, a specific song they release might fit into a different category. “One thing that we try to stress is that recordings have genres that people do not,” Freimuth shares. “So, you could take a band like Avenged Sevenfold or Metallica, and maybe most people think of those bands as metal bands, but that doesn’t mean that every track that they put on every album meets our criteria for metal.”
Beyoncé actually set a record last year when she was nominated in nine distinct award fields, making her the most musically diverse artist in 2017. She held nominations in Rap, R&B, Pop and Rock, as well as the video and general fields. She is not the only nominee to have nominations in four different genre fields, but she was the first to have nominations in all those fields in the same awards year.
So who decides which genre something belongs in before the ballots are sent out to voting members to select nominees? Well, it all starts with submissions, and this year the Grammys received more than 22,000. Recording Academy members, record labels and even publishers can submit entries for consideration, and when submitting, they can choose up to two genre categories if they are unsure where a specific artist or recording should be sorted. “Let’s say X artist puts an album out, and it really seems to be on the border between Pop and R&B, and so they’ll enter it in both,” Freimuth says. “So, that is kind of a red flag to us that it needs to be screened, because it can ultimately only stay in one of those categories.”
There are 24 committees made up of experts representing all tiers of the music industry, from label execs (both majors and small indies) to producers, journalists, talent bookers, DJs, engineers, songwriters and musicologists who review submissions and ultimately decide which category a submission belongs in. “These people are experts in these genres, so they can bring a great deal of subtlety and nuance into their deliberations,” he shares.
Most committees have an average of about 15 people in them, while the largest committee, the Core Committee, has 70 members in it and deals with the Pop, Rock and Best New Artist categories. The Core Committee also has final say if any disagreements occur within the smaller committees. “This is one part of our process in which you may participate without being a voting member of the Academy,” he says. “The reason is that we never ever ask one of these committees to make any judgment about quality. They’re strictly sorting. They’re not ranking in any way.”
So if a recording is submitted as R&B and the R&B committee deems that it’s pop, then it goes to the Core room (which also is the Pop committee), and they will give it a listen. If they agree with the R&B committee, then it goes into Pop. Or, they might actually call the R&B committee in for a joint session to really dig into the borderline cases as an even larger group.
This year, there are many bands traditionally categorized as Rock (Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Portugal. The Man) in the Pop category. Freimuth says there’s been a lot of discussion about the Rock category and a lot of feedback from the rock community in the last couple of years that led the Academy to pay particular attention to this category. “One of the concerns we heard from a lot from that community is that too much of what the core community believes is pop music was being sorted into Rock,” he says. And so, looking at some of these bands that ended up in Pop, one of the things that the committee focused on was the production. “Is it really bright and slick, or does it have more of an edge to it, more of a rawness to it, which would lean more toward people thinking of it as Rock?” he says. “I mean, you can really look at, looking into Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, versus some of the folks that are in Rock this year, and you can probably hear that in overall production and intent. And that’s where it is. Portugal. The Man, that song ["Feel It Still”] is a bit of an anomaly, I think, for them. But it seems to us that it was really their intention to do something different and really cross over into a pop world with that song, and I think they did a good job of it.”
The result is a group of heavier artists reflected in the Rock category, and Freimuth says he hopes this change has come across in this year’s nominees.
“Personally, I think that’s kind of exciting,” he says. “I’m hoping that the statement that these nominations make are a true reflection of the tastes of the rock community. Because that’s always what we aim for.”
The 60th annual Grammys will air live on CBS from Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday, Jan. 28. The final round of Grammy voting runs from Dec. 7 to 21.