Deborah Dugan alleged on Good Morning America that some artists did not get Grammy nominations due to conflicts of interest

By Gabrielle Chung and Janine Rubenstein
January 23, 2020 08:25 PM
Advertisement
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

The Recording Academy is speaking out after its CEO and President Deborah Dugan — who was placed on administrative leave earlier this month — made a bombshell claim that the Grammy Awards‘ nomination system is rigged.

Hours after Dugan appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday to speak about the controversy surrounding her leave, in which she claimed that there’s a “conflict of interest” within some of the voting committee members, the Recording Academy released a statement condemning the allegations as “categorically false.”

“Spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong. This process is strictly enforced with everyone involved and has no exceptions,” Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy’s chief awards officer, said in a statement to PEOPLE.

“The Nomination Review Committees are made up of a diverse group of current and relevant music creators with a high level of expertise in their respective genres. These committee members are all Voting Members. Committees are built by the Chair in consultation with the President/CEO and Chief Awards Officer using names submitted by all Academy Chapters. Many are Trustees.”

Freimunth said in the statement that committee members are chosen weeks before the first round of entry list nominees is created, so it’s unknown whether some of the members will be nominated for a Grammy.

“Because these committee members are at the top of their craft, and many members work with multiple artists, it is not unusual that some of the people in each room will end up with nominations from the first round,” Freimuth added. “There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest.”

Freimuth continued, “Should a committee member qualify for a GRAMMY, they are required to leave the room for the entire listening session and are NOT allowed to vote in that category. Committee members do not know the ranking of any entry and the voting is by secret ballot. The committees are not confidential, but the committee members’ names are for the obvious reason of preventing lobbying from outside parties, therefore further protecting the integrity of the voting process.”

“We remain fully committed to the integrity, transparency and robustness of the awards and look forward with excitement to celebrating the artists who deservingly receive them,” the statement added. “We are acutely aware that many artists have worked a lifetime for this moment at music’s biggest night and it is them we want to focus on when we celebrate this weekend.”

On Thursday, Dugan appeared on Good Morning America and claimed she has “evidence” that the nomination system is unfairly balanced due to “conflict of interest.”

“I’m saying that the system should be transparent and that there are incidents of conflicts of interest that taint the results,” she said on the morning show. “I couldn’t say more positive things about all of the nominations and everybody that performs. I hate that I’m in this situation because I’d much rather be here talking about the artists and the music, but I can’t help but have to say there are conflicts of interest that go on.”

In her formal complaint that she filed, Dugan alleged that some musicians did not get Grammy nominations due to favoritism and conflicts of interest.

“Moreover, in an outrageous conflict of interest, the Board has selected artists who are under consideration for a nomination to sit on the committee that is voting for the category for which they have been nominated. As a result, one artist who initially ranked 18 out of 20 in the 2019 ‘Song of the Year’ category ended up with a nomination,” the document read. “This artist was actually permitted to sit on the ‘Song of the Year’ nomination committee. Incredibly, this artist is also represented by a member of the Board.”

In the lawsuit, Dugan also alleged unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation and unequal pay by the Academy.

The Recording Academy denied the allegations contained in the filing. “It is curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms. Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct’. When Ms. Dugan did raise her ‘concerns’ to HR, she specifically instructed HR ‘not to take any action’ in response,” the organization told Rolling Stone in a statement.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Dugan’s attorneys denied the misconduct allegations against her.

Dugan had been the head of the Recording Academy for just five months after being appointed in August 2019. She became the first female president and CEO of the organization last year, following allegations of gender bias against the Recording Academy, and after former president Neil Portnow stepped down in July 2019.

Portnow had received backlash for saying female artists need to “step up” following a controversial male-dominated Grammy Awards in 2018. (He later went on to apologize for his comments.)

Alicia Keys will return as host for this year’s Grammys, which will also feature performances from Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato, Lizzo and more.

The Grammy Awards will take place at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Sunday, Jan. 26. The telecast will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. EST.