This Sunday’s 62nd annual Grammy Awards threatens to be upstaged by the backstage drama that erupted at the Recording Academy just 10 days before Music’s Biggest Night with ousted CEO Deborah Dugan’s accusations of a “corrupt” voting process and a toxic “old boys club” culture.
The scandal “is all anyone is talking about,” one music industry executive told TheWrap. “I’m going to a Grammy adjacent event … The event will start and we will pretend it’s not happening. And then the event will be over and everyone will go back to talking about it.”
An artist manager who has been involved with the Recording Academy for over a decade said, “I have heard immense relief from managers of artists who don’t need to go this year, and I can’t blame them — that red carpet is going to be a living nightmare for everyone involved.”
The awkward timing of Dugan’s removal as the Recording Academy’s first female boss — and the salacious accusations that have emerged since — have consumed the music world. On Friday, Variety reported that Taylor Swift pulled out of an unofficial performance slot on the show that had not yet been announced. Reps for Swift did not respond to a request for comment.
In a complaint filed Tuesday with the EEOC, Dugan said her predecessor Neil Portnow had been accused of rape — an accusation he vehemently denied — and that the Recording Academy’s general counsel, Joel Katz, has sexually harassed her — which Katz also denied. In addition, she said the nomination process for the Grammy Awards was tainted by conflicts of interest and sometimes manipulated by the board members representing artists up for nominations — which the Academy has denied.
Host Alicia Keys and nominated artists who are lined up to perform face enormous challenges given the suddenly fraught environment. “What do you say in interviews? If you win, what do you say from the stage? It’s a PR catch-22 the likes of which we have not seen in years,” the music manager said. “If you don’t say anything, you’re a chickens— who is part of the problem. If you say something, even something vague, you’ve pissed off the Grammys and Joel Katz and probably a whole bunch of other old white dudes who can ruin your career before lunch and never give it a second thought. It’s an impossible situation.”
One music publicist noted, “It’s all timing. This is something the Grammys tried to quietly sweep under the rug and it’s coming back to bite them.”
The music exec also wondered why the Recording Academy didn’t work harder to keep this all under wraps for just a little while longer. “In what world could you not keep it together for 10 more days?” the exec wondered. “Offer her a suite at the Ojai Valley Inn for nine days. Talk the Monday afterward.”
The music business has been celebrating at various events all week leading up to the show, which has provided plenty of opportunities for varying people within the industry to socialize.
“Everyone is talking about it at every single industry event,” a veteran music journalist told TheWrap, adding that “multiple” publicists and reporters had broached the topic at events this week.
The journalist continued, “I don’t think it will overshadow the ceremony but for winners this year it’s like, ‘Well, did they deserve it? Can they celebrate with all this going on without some feeling of guilt?”
Thom Geier, Nate Jackson and Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.