Grammy Awards drop the word 'urban' from all but one category, among other changes
The Recording Academy is joining other companies within the music industry in getting rid of "urban" as a classification for American music.
While within the record industry, "urban" has been more clearly associated with rap and R&B, genres populated by mostly black artists, the Grammys use of the word in some categories has made the euphemism even murkier. For example, at last year's ceremony, Lizzo was nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance for her No. 1 hit, "Truth Hurts," while the album the song was included on was nominated for in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category.
Often, the explanation that was given for the category for being populated with some of the biggest pop stars in the world, like Rihanna and Beyoncé, is that their music is derived from R&B. However, if you take into account that the same can be said for music by vocalists like Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande, those artists still got put in the one contemporary pop album category, Best Pop Vocal Album. Speaking for many critics of the Urban Contemporary category, experimental musician Tyler, the Creator said in the press room after his 2020 Best Rap Album win, "It also sucks that whenever guys who look like me do anything that’s genre-bending they always put it in the urban category. I don’t like the word urban. It’s a politically correct way of using the n-word to me. Why can’t we just be in pop?”
For the 2021 Grammys, Best Urban Contemporary Album will now be known as Best Progressive R&B Album, meant for albums that "include the more progressive elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance, and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements found in pop, euro-pop, country, rock, folk, and alternative."
The other former category to use the word "urban," Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album, has now been split between two categories: Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album, and Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album. The word "urban" actually serves a purpose here in that the term musíca urbana has become the agreed upon catch-all for most rap and R&B-inspired Latin music.
To give an idea of what each category would consist of, acts like Maluma and Luis Fonsi populated Best Latin Pop Album, while Bad Bunny, J Balvin, and Rosalía were nominees for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album. The change would conceivably put singer Maluma and rapper Bad Bunny against each other in Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album, while the flamenco-inspired artist Rosalía would be in Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album.
Some of the final changes include Best Rap/Sung Performance becoming Best Melodic Rap Performance, accounting for more solo artists like Future or Lil Nas X who often rap through autotune, rather than just rapper/singer collaborations. Also, there will not be a specified maximum number of release for a Best New Artist candidate anymore. A screening committee will instead determine if a prospect has already had a breakout year in a prior eligibility period. An affirmative determination would then disqualify them. Nominations Review Committee members will also have to fill out a conflict of interest disclosure form before voting in any of the categories they are invited to participate in.
The changes not only address the critiques from Tyler, the Creator, but from Diddy, who called out many disappointing elements to the Grammys in his Salute to Industry Icons Award acceptance speech at the annual pre-Grammy gala. A week after fired Recording Academy president Deborah Dugan filed an EEOC complaint against the organization, alleging massive conflicts of interests within voting, among other infractions, the Bad Boy Records founder stated, "Black music has never been respected by the Grammys... We need the artists to take back control. We need transparency. We need diversity."
All changes made for the upcoming 63rd Grammy Awards were voted on and passed at the semiannual Board of Trustees meeting held in May. For more on the amendments, and the award process itself, folks can visit the organization's Grammy 101 website.