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NYU Professor and Students Help Create a New Grammy® Special Merit Award for Best Song for Social Change

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Introducing Special Merit Award: Best Song for Social Change. This Special Merit Award will be determined by a Blue Ribbon Committee and ratified by the Recording Academy Board of Trustees. Submissions must contain lyrical content that addresses a timely social issue and promotes understanding, peacebuilding, and empathy.

The Recording Academy recently announced the creation of a special merit award for Best Song for Social Change, a new Grammy special award, to be introduced in 2023, which will recognize songs that raise awareness about social issues and promote understanding, peacebuilding, and empathy.

Dr. Carlos Chirinos, professor in the Music Business Program, co-authored the proposal to create the new category with the artists Wayna and Maimouna Youssef, and received guidance from the Recording Academy’s leadership. 

The process began with Dr. Chirinos’ research into songs about social issues and the relationship between the music industry and social change movements. His master’s level course Music, Innovation and Social Change provides students an opportunity to explore the subject and allows a forum to advocate for the visibility of artists whose songs focus on anti-racism, gender equity, women empowerment, health, mental health, suicide prevention, gun control, among other social topics. 

In order to be considered by the Recording Academy, the proposal had to present evidence to prove that there are enough songs being commercially released in the United States focusing on these topics to warrant the creation of a new award category. Students of the course contributed to compiling this evidence by cataloging popular songs with a social change message released in the United States since 2017. The collaborative list identified more than 400 songs created by established and emerging artists, which demonstrated that an increasing number of music artists are releasing message-driven compositions that respond to social issues of our time. A sampling of these songs includes: “Your Power” by Billie Eilish, “Montero” by Lil Nas X, “Freedom” by Jon Batiste, and “This is America” by Childish Gambino.

Dr. Chirinos praised students for their indepth research and for advocating in support of their selections, which were ultimately agreed upon by all. “Connecting the classroom and real world experiences is an essential part of an NYU masters level program, and by collaborating in the creation of this list, students debated, argued, and ultimately selected these songs. Part of the debate included questions about artists’ authenticity and the perceived impact of these songs in changing the narrative about the role of music in society.”

This Special Merit Award will be determined by a Blue Ribbon Committee and ratified by the Recording Academy Board of Trustees. Submissions must contain lyrical content that addresses a timely social issue and promotes understanding, peacebuilding and empathy.

Official announcement by the Recording Academy.

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