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Grammy Awards Will Allow Samples for Song of the Year

The Recording Academy frees the sample, redefines "alternative," updates its EDM categories

Every song contains traces of its influences. The Grammy Awards will now allow those influences to be outright samples or quotes across all award categories, including Song of the Year. As Billboard reports, the Recording Academy announced the rule change as part of its annual spring trustees meeting. 

In a statement, the Recording Academy said the update reflects a recognition of how rap songs often use bits of older songs, “providing creative and interesting compositions that often reach across genre lines.” Songwriters previously could only win for sample-based material in the Best Rap Song category. Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” the Grammy winner for Best Rap Song in 2011, could have won Song of the Year under the #newrules (it includes a sample of soul ballad “Love on a Two-Way Street“).

The change comes as the role of borrowing in musical creativity remains a subject of hot debate. Don Henley recently criticized Frank Ocean and Okkervil River for “stealing” his work when they gave away free tracks sampling (in Ocean’s case) and reinterpreting (in the Will Sheff-led band’s case) songs he had originated. Dylanologists are uncovering outright copying in Bob Dylan’s catalog that makes a case for the rock and folk legend as, also, the preeminent magpie. Pharrell’s “Happy” video bears striking resemblances to an indie movie set to, of all things, the music of sample-plunderer Girl Talk. Ocean himself was sued for allegedly sampling a sample of a sample. The late Pete Seeger once said nobody knows who wrote his most powerful song.

The Recording Academy’s spring work wasn’t limited to a renewed appreciation of samples. Those still wondering what exactly “alternative” means can look to the board of trustees for guidance. Tell the ’90s the news: “The Best Alternative Music Album category is intended for recordings that take as a starting point any existing musical genre or combination of genres, and expand and redefine the boundaries of those genres. Though there may be considerable overlap with the Alternative radio format, this category is not intended to mirror it.”

The board of trustees also changed the name of the Dance-Electronica Field and album category to the Dance/Electronic Music Field and Best Dance/Electronic Album (they’re almost to EDM). What’s more, the board formed a new category for Best American Roots Performance in the Roots Field, rearranged the Gospel/Contempory Christian Music Field categories, and rebranded Best Pop Instrumental Album as Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, among other changes. Daft Punk will probably still find a way to win everything.