In addition to the new categories, producer of the year, non-classical and songwriter of the year, non-classical will be moved to the general field.
The Recording Academy has added three new categories for the 66th annual Grammy Awards, set for next February – best African music performance, best alternative jazz album, and best pop dance recording. This brings the total number of categories to 94, the highest total since the number reached an all-time peak of 109 in 2010.
In addition, the existing categories of producer of the year, non-classical and songwriter of the year, non-classical will be moved to the general field. The general field has long consisted of four categories – album, record and song of the year plus best new artist. These four categories are often unofficially called the Big Four.
By moving the producer and songwriter awards to the general field, all Grammy voters can in these non-genre-specific categories without using up a field. (All voters can vote in the general field and then in no more than three other fields.)
Producer of the year, non-classical was added in 1974. Songwriter of the year, non-classical was added last year. Thom Bell and Tobias Jesso Jr. were the inaugural recipients, respectively.
These category additions and amendments were passed at the Recording Academy’s most recent semiannual board of trustees meeting held last month.
“The Recording Academy is proud to announce these latest category changes to our awards process,” Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement. “These changes reflect our commitment to actively listen and respond to the feedback from our music community, accurately represent a diverse range of relevant musical genres, and stay aligned with the ever-evolving musical landscape.
“By introducing these three new categories, we are able to acknowledge and appreciate a broader array of artists – and relocating the producer of the year and songwriter of the year categories to the general field ensures that all our voters can participate in recognizing excellence in these fields. We are excited to honor and celebrate the creators and recordings in these categories, while also exposing a wider range of music to fans worldwide.”
With these three new categories, the Academy has added 10 categories in the last three years. That’s the most categories the Academy has added in any three- year period since 1959-61, when it added 12.
Bill Freimuth, the Academy’s former senior vice president, awards, led an effort to pare down the number of categories. The number nosedived from 109 to 78 in 2011, but has since been creeping back up. There is an ongoing debate between those who think “less is more” (that having a glut of categories devalues the award) and those who think “more is more” (that it makes more creators happy, which will turn Grammy critics in the creative community into Grammy boosters).
The Recording Academy accepts proposals from members of the music community throughout the year. The awards and nominations committee, comprised of Academy voting members of diverse genres and backgrounds, meets annually to review proposals to update award categories, procedures and eligibility guidelines.
Here’s a closer look at the three new Grammy categories:
Best Alternative Jazz Album
This category recognizes artistic excellence in alternative jazz albums by individuals, duos, groups/ensembles, with or without vocals. Alternative jazz may be defined as a genre-blending, envelope-pushing hybrid that mixes jazz (improvisation, interaction, harmony, rhythm, arrangements, composition, and style) with other genres, including R&B, hip-hop, classical, contemporary improvisation, experimental, pop, rap, electronic/dance music, and/or spoken word. It may also include the contemporary production techniques/instrumentation associated with other genres.
This new category joins five existing categories for jazz – best improvised jazz solo, best jazz vocal album, best jazz instrumental album, best large jazz ensemble album and best Latin jazz album.
There will be four categories on the Grammy ballot next year with the word “alternative” in their name – best alternative music performance, best alternative music album, best Latin rock or alternative album and this new category.
Best African Music Performance
A track and singles category that recognizes recordings that utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent. Highlighting regional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic musical traditions, the category includes but is not limited to the Afrobeat, Afro-fusion, Afro Pop, Afrobeats, Alte, Amapiano, Bongo Flava, Genge, Kizomba, Chimurenga, High Life, Fuji, Kwassa, Ndombolo, Mapouka, Ghanaian Drill, Afro-House, South African Hip-Hop, and Ethio Jazz genres.Previously, these performances competed for best global music performance. In February, the winner in that category was a recording (“Bayethe”) by three South African artists – Wouter Kellerman, Zakes Bantwini and Nomcebo Zikode.
Best Pop Dance Recording
Recognizes tracks and singles that feature up-tempo, danceable music that follows a pop arrangement. Eligible pop dance recordings also feature strong rhythmic beats, significant electronic-based instruments with an emphasis on the vocal performance, melody and hooks. Dance remixes are eligible in the best remixed recording category only and may not be entered in best pop dance recording.This new category joins two existing categories for dance music – best dance/electronic recording and best dance/electronic album.There was some controversy this year when Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” was placed in best dance/electronic recording –which it won. Pop superstars have a clear advantage over dance artists who are not household names. Previous winners in this category include Madonna, Cher, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Presumably, most artists of that ilk would be placed in the new best pop dance recording category.