What the hell is going on with the Grammy Awards? Let’s break it down.

With just a couple of days to go before the Grammy Awards, the non-profit organization that runs it is in complete meltdown with allegations of harassment, corruption and even rape. Let’s see if we can deconstruct the whole thing.

  • Five months go, Deborah Dugan, a former Wall Street attorney, a VP at EMI Music, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, and the head of Bono’s Project (RED), among other things, was named as CEO and president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the non-profit group that serves many aspects of the music industry. That includes running the Grammy Awards.
  • The appointment of a woman to the top post was seen as progressive, smart and the right thing to do given the lack of representation of women at top levels of the music industry. The Grammys had also come under plenty of criticism for ignoring woman and for not being inclusive. Outgoing CEO Neil Portnow was also hit with a huge amount of blowback for telling women that “they needed to step up” if they wanted more recognition.

So far, so good, right?

  • Dugan had a mandate to clean things up and affect change within the Recording Academy. And she really dug in, finding that the Academy was spending millions upon millions of dollars on keeping outside lawyers on retainer. Thinking that this was a waste of money (more than $15 million over five years, a huge amount for a non-profit), Dugan (who’s a lawyer, remember?) wanted to bring all legal counsel in-house. Why not have a permanent lawyer on staff?
  • On January 16, the Academy announced that Dugan was being placed on “administrative leave,” saying that she created a “toxic and intolerable” work environment involving abuse and bullying. The accuser turned out to be the former assistant of former CEO Neil Portnow.
  • It turns out that three weeks earlier, Dugan had sent a memo to HR detailing how she herself had been subject to sexual harassment from a music industry lawyer named Joel Katz, who also serves as the Academy’s general counsel. (He’s denied this.)
  • Dugan also reported on all kinds of voting irregularities, various conflicts of interest, and other shenanigans regarding the whole Grammy process, including who gets nominated for what. It’s “ripe with corruption,” she alleges.

Whoa. Ugly. But wait. There’s more.

  • The Recording Academy says that Dugan offered to resign and withdraw all her allegations if they paid her off. One report cites a figure of $22 million. But that’s in dispute.
  • Another allegation: Dugan was pressured to put Neil Portnow on a retainer as a consultant for a reported $750,000 a year. He denies that as well as allegations that he raped a “foreign singer.”
  • Dugan continues to fight back, saying that she will expose the whole old boys’ club that runs the Academy.

Oh, and did I mention that all this is happening with the Grammys coming up this Sunday night? Not good, obviously.

A couple of questions:

  1. Why was this allowed to come out in the weeks and days leading up to the Academy’s most important event?
  2. How much do these scandals (further) tarnish the Grammys as irrelevant and out of touch?
  3. How should Alicia Keys, the host of Sunday’s broadcast, address the whole situation?
  4. How will this affect ratings? All awards shows have seen declines in audiences, although the Grammys can still attract viewership of about 19 million, which is what they pulled in last year. Then again, that was an all-time low.

What a mess. And it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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