Following through on a dramatic plan that has been in the works for more than a year, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has overhauled the Grammy Awards, trimming the number of awards from 109 to 78.
NARAS president Neil Portnow, chairman emeritus Jimmy Jam and vice president of awards Bill Freimuth unveiled the changes, which make up the most substantial overhaul in Grammy history, Wednesday at a Santa Monica press conference. Voting members will now be allowed to cast ballots in the four general categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist) and in as many as 20 genre categories, more than double the number in which they were allowed to vote last year.
The sheer number of awards has long been a problem for the Grammys, which grew from 28 categories in 1959 to 109 this year. It hands out the vast majority of its awards in an off-the-air ceremony that takes place before the three-hour, performance-heavy telecast begins.
A NARAS press release conceded that the growth in categories had taken place "one category at a time without a current overall guiding vision and without consistency across the various fields."
Portnow and Jam said that the plan to eliminate categories had been in the works since 2009. A music business executive familiar with the process told TheWrap that the trimming of categories received tentative approval last year but was not implemented.
The eliminated categories include duo or group performances and some solo performances in the pop, rock, country, R&B and rap fields. For instance, the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Instrumental Performance categories will all be combined into a single category, Best Pop Solo Performance.
Not only will men be competing against women in the vocal categories, but singers will be competing against instrumentalist -- which, given the higher profile the singers are likely to command, may make things difficult for guitarists or horn players hoping to win Grammys.
Numerous cuts were also made in the jazz, Latin, gospel and Americana fields. In the Americana field, for example, nine categories were reduced to five: two blues categories and two folk categories were combined into one of each, while the Best Hawaiian Music Album, Best Native American Musical Album and Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album categories were folded into a new category, Best Regional Roots Music Album.
The Latin and gospel fields were reduced from seven categories to four, and the jazz category from six to four.
The oft-abused Grammy distinction between hard rock and heavy metal was eliminated, with both categories folded into a new Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.
The classical field was also trimmed slightly, with the eliminated category of Best Classical Crossover Album bearing an explanation for future submissions: "If the release is a non-classical artist making a classical album it should be entered in the appropriate classical category. If the release is a classical artist making a non-classical album it should be entered in the appropriate genre category (Pop, New Age, Jazz, etc.)"
Under the new alignment, promised Portnow, "Every submission will continue to have a home."
Besides cutting 31 categories, NARAS created a framework that could allow for the elimination of additional categories. The organization will now require 40 distinct submissions to trigger a field of five nominees in any category, up from 25 submissions last year. A category that has more than 25 but fewer than 40 entries will field a slate of three nominees; fewer than 25 and the category will be eliminated for a year.
Categories that fail to reach 25 entries for three consecutive years will be discontinued.