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Music execs say scandal-plagued Grammys rife with ‘finagling and favoritism’

When the Grammy Awards air on CBS Sunday night at 8pm, the spotlight will be not just on nominated stars like Billie Eilish and Lizzo — but also on the wild behind-the-scenes chaos that’s rocking the Recording Academy.

“What other motive would Taylor Swift have in backing out of the Grammys than this back-and-forth scandal of the last week?” said one music-business mover-and-shaker of a Variety report, released Friday, that the artist had canceled a possible secret performance.

Deborah Dugan claims that certain nominees were in the room while their categories were being voted on.
Deborah Dugan claims that certain nominees were in the room while their categories were being voted on.

“She’s got records to sell, a new documentary to push,” said the mover-and-shaker of Swift, who is nominated for three awards including “Lover” for song of the year. “She’s got every reason to be out there in front of people.”

The drama spilled into public view on Jan. 16, when Deborah Dugan — the first female CEO of the Recording Academy, the group behind the Grammys — was ousted, after just five months on the job, for alleged bullying and misconduct.

But Dugan said she was fired partly for reporting corruption at the Grammys, claiming that certain nominees were in the room while their categories were being voted on.

“It’s obvious you don’t do that, it’s insane,” Dugan told The Post.

One artist who was on last year’s committee was ranked 18th out of 20 in the song of the year category (which was later cut down to eight contenders) — but still managed to get a nomination, Dugan said.

Music industry insiders said Dugan’s accusations came as no surprise. “I never saw it myself, but it has been an open secret for a long time that some backroom deals are being done,” said Rob Kenner, who co-founded Vibe magazine and was a Grammys voter from 2010 until 2014.

One problem is that Grammys voters are easily swayed by recognizable names, Kenner said.

“I was on the screening committee for reggae records. I learned an important rule from more experienced committee members: If you are on the fence about a record actually being reggae, be very careful if it was made by a famous name,” Kenner said. “It will have a good chance of winning over a more legitimate selection.”

Taylor Swift's last performance at the GRAMMYs was in February 2016, when she won for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.
Taylor Swift’s last performance at the GRAMMYs was in February 2016, when she won for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.

The Recording Academy pointed The Post to a statement from interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. which read in part: “There are strict rules in place to address any conflict of interest [around voting] and no exception. Should a committee member qualify for a Grammy, they are required to leave the room and are NOT allowed to be present for listening sessions, subsequent conversation or the vote to determine the nominees.”

But a music-business insider points out that the Grammys need star power — and that can taint the voting process. “The whole thing’s a quagmire,” the insider said. “It’s a television show. CBS pays 20 million for it. Follow the money. They only give out eight or nine awards on camera, so they have to have the great acts on camera — meaning, those people have to be nominated. And they can’t have schlubs!”

“There’s favoritism in all award shows but the Oscars — they’re legit. But the Grammys have finagling and favoritism.”

 - A music-industry publicist

A music-industry publicist said the system has long been shady. “Let’s face it, the music business has always had corruption, more than film or TV. Remember all the payola scandals back in the day? The payoffs to radio people? It never really stopped. It just changed,” the publicist said, adding: “There’s favoritism in all award shows but the Oscars — they’re legit. But the Grammys have finagling and favoritism.”

A music executive, who has heard a number of “horror stories” this week, agreed. “One executive on the alternative category a few years ago told me they were upset that reps from a record label [with alternative artists] were in the voting room,” the source said.

Dugan said she had ideas for how to improve the voting process but claims she was told it was too late to discuss them in time for the 2020 awards ceremony. “This was in November, and I was told we could discuss it in June. That was seven months away.”

Meanwhile, she says, “I did find conflicts of interest in this year’s show.”

Dugan said she was also fired for claiming the Academy’s general counsel Joel Katz propositioned her and tried to kiss her. (He has denied this.) In a discrimination complaint filed Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Dugan alleged that former CEO Neil Portnow “raped a female recording artist, which was, upon information and belief, the real reason his contract was not renewed.”

(Representatives for the Recording Academy did comment on these matters.)

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“I knew coming in that it was a boys club, that there was a lack of diversity,” Dugan told The Post. “Friends warned me, but maybe I was a little bit too idealistic. It’s a non-profit. I thought, ‘How bad could it be?’”

Dugan’s attorney is now planning to file a civil action against the Academy. Meanwhile, interim Academy CEO Mason Jr. has claimed that Dugan’s lawyers asked for millions of dollars to go away quietly and drop her accusations — claims that she denies.

“I thought I would be on stage at the Grammys [this weekend], as the first female CEO after 62 years of male leadership,” Dugan told The Post. Now, “I don’t think I will ever work again. Any time people Google me, this is going to come up, regardless of what happens. I feel like I’m living in the ‘Twilight Zone.’”

With additional reporting by Merle Ginsberg and Michael Kaplan