Music News: From the Grammys to 'Lady A,' music industry changes its language

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The Current Music News for June 16, 2020 (MPR Video)

It's now been two weeks since the music industry marked "Blackout Tuesday" with public statements, black boxes, and nine-figure donations. We previously looked at all the conversation around that day, including suggestions for real changes the music industry could make to go beyond words. Chances for real change are looking good...but words are changing too. Case in point: the Grammys.

Ever since the term "urban music" gained popularity in the 1970s, there have been calls to stop using it as a synonym for black music. A lot of artists have said they get pigeonholed as "urban" if they're black, instead of their music being heard on its own terms. Now, Bloomberg reports that Warner Music and iHeartMedia will both phase out the term.

The Grammys are also changing their use of the term. As part of a series of changes that were locked in weeks ago but just announced recently, the category of best urban contemporary album will now be known as best progressive R&B album. Some artists, though, worry that category — like the category of best rap album — will remain a "backhanded compliment" for black artists excluded from consideration for bigger awards. That's how Tyler, the Creator put it after accepting the best rap album award this past January for Igor, an album that doesn't actually include much rapping.

Another name change involves the country trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum. They're now known (for the moment) as simply Lady A. In United States history, the word "antebellum" refers to the South before the Civil War, when slavery was still a thing. The name was originally inspired by the architectural style of the home where they posed for their first band photos, and the band's Dave Heywood previously said the name felt "kind of country and nostalgic." It doesn't sound too nostalgic for black Americans, though, as the band acknowledged in a statement citing "blind spots we didn't even know existed."

One of those blind spots, as it happens, involves the artist already using the moniker Lady A: a veteran blues singer, to whom the band have now apologized.

So names are changing, and now money might start changing hands as well. In response to calls for labels to revisit past contracts that left black artists at a disadvantage, BMG says it's reassessing all of it historic record contracts. In a statement to artists and managers last week, BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch said that "While BMG only began operations in 2008, we have acquired many older catalogues. If there are any inequities or anomalies, we will create a plan to address them. Within 30 days."

Last Friday I had the chance to connect with Nabil Ayers, who's the U.S. general manager for the record label 4AD. For the New York Times he recently interviewed Ed Eckstine, who was the first black person to be appointed head of a major U.S. record label. We talked about their conversation, about how Nabil Ayers experienced the music industry's genre segregation when he owned a record store in Seattle, and about what he made of all the Blackout Tuesday activity. Watch for that conversation as a special episode tomorrow.

For a clip to leave you on...we've got to say, we called it. Back in early May, Jade and I were talking about what it would take for us to feel safe going to concerts again, and we mentioned a certain band that might be able to provide a uniquely protected concert experience.

Now, believe it or not, that's actually happened. Here are the Flaming Lips last week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.


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