“I don’t think there’s a race problem at all,” he told Pitchfork in a recent interview.
Questions about whether or not the Grammys have an issue with race have been pondered for quite some time. They arose again after this year’s ceremony when Adele’s “25” took home the coveted Album of the Year award over Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Many people, including Adele and fellow singers Sufjan Stevens and St. Vincent, voiced their disappointment over Bey’s loss and the ceremony in general. (Beyoncé didn’t go home empty handed, though. She won Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video.)
To provide a little context, a black artist hasn’t won Album of the Year since Herbie Hancock in 2008, and the last black woman to take home the award was Lauryn Hill in 1999. In the past 20 years, there have only been four black Album of the Year winners, along with a number of performers who sang on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, which won the award in 2002.
When Pitchfork brought up the fact that Hancock was the last black artist to win the award, Portnow reminded the outlet, “This is a peer-voted award.”
“When we say the Grammys, it’s not a corporate entity — it’s the 14,000 members of the Academy,” he said, noting that it’s hard to “create objectivity out of something that’s inherently subjective,” but added, “we do the best we can.”
Portnow said that, in his opinion, musicians don’t “listen to music based on gender or race or ethnicity.”
“It’s a matter of what you react to and what in your mind as a professional really rises to the highest level of excellence in any given year,” he said.
Portnow explained that the Academy asks members to “listen to the music” and not pay attention to record sales, marketing or music charts when deciding on their votes. The process, he said, is “a democratic vote by majority.”
“So somebody could either receive or not receive a Grammy based on one vote,” he noted. “It could be that tight.”
With all that being said, Portnow did mention that the Academy is always working on increasing diversity.
“In order to maintain our relevance, we have to be refreshing all the time and we have to be doing that across the board,” he said.
To read more from his interview, head over to Pitchfork.