It’s that time of year when artists submit their music in hopes of getting recognition from none other than The Recording Academy. The Grammys’ reviewing process has been the standard for the past few decades, but now, something has changed. It’s the first time people are protesting an artist’s submission of a song ahead of nominations. Why? Because the creative listed on the offering isn’t an actual human being; it’s been composed by an AI machine.

A track titled “Heart on My Sleeve” took the internet by storm in April, drawing attention for sounding like two of the biggest stars of our generation, Drake and The Weeknd. However, despite its popularity across the digital realm, the single was removed from all major streaming platforms thanks to Universal Music, Variety reports. To the surprise of many, it resurfaced on unofficial third-party streaming sites, leaving fans both baffled and intrigued.

So, what’s the next move for the ghost artist? Well, in an unexpected turn of events, they decided to take a shot at the Grammys. This decision has sparked widespread discussions about the legitimacy of the submission and whether it fits the criteria. To dive into this further, let’s explore the rules.

The submission eligibility criteria includes songs that have been released within the timeframe spanning Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 15, 2023. To meet the requirements, a song must be made available for commercial sale through general distribution channels or offered as a digital recording, either for sale or through a recognized streaming service. Further details regarding the specific qualifications for a digital recording and the concept of general distribution are provided below, per the official Grammys website:

General Distribution: Recordings must be released via general distribution, defined as the nationwide release of a recording via brick-and-mortar stores, third-party online retailers, and/or applicable digital streaming services. Applicable streaming services are paid subscriptions, full catalogs, and on-demand streaming/limited download platforms that have existed as such within the United States for at least one full year as of the submission deadline. All recordings entered must have an assigned International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) or UPC number.

Digital Recordings: Recordings released nationwide via download or streaming service must have quality comparable to at least 16-bit 44.1 kHz. Submissions sent to The Recording Academy for consideration must include the original file, proper label credits (producer, mixer, songwriter, etc.) in the metadata file, and a verifiable online release date.

Note: To be considered an album, recordings must contain at least five different tracks and a total playing time of 15 minutes or a total playing time of at least 30 minutes with no minimum track requirement. Recordings (albums/singles) must be available to the public as standalone purchases or audio-only streams (Exceptions: opera and music video/film) by Sept. 15, 2023.

The Recording Academy’s rule regarding AI songs is, “Only human creators are eligible to be submitted for consideration for, nominated for, or win a Grammy Award. A work that contains no human authorship is not eligible in any categories.” It continues with, “A work that features elements of AI material (i.e., material generated by the use of artificial intelligence technology) is eligible in applicable categories,” then goes on to describe just how much “human authorship” is required for the submitted work to qualify for a Grammy (Hint: It’s “more than de minimis.”)

Based on the initial guidelines for Grammy submissions, the song complies with the distribution prerequisites. Despite it being removed from DSPs, it resurfaced via a third-party platform within the release window as outlined in the regulations. Regarding the AI-related criteria, the track was entered into the Best Rap Song and Song of the Year categories for the 2024 Grammys. These awards place a primary focus on the songwriter rather than the performing artist. In this case, the lyrics were crafted by a human using an AI to enhance the creative process. Assuming that the track was correctly submitted by a registered media company or a qualified voting member, it appeared to meet the submission criteria. However, the decision was solely up to The Recording Academy. So, what is their official stance?

Well, according to a New York Times interview with CEO Harvey Mason Jr., he initially stated that the submission was technically “eligible because it was written by a human.” Since then, Mason clarified in a conversation with Variety, during which he explained, “What we intended to say was that material using AI can be submitted, but the human portion of the composition, or the performance, is the only portion that can be awarded or considered for a Grammy Award. So if an AI modeling system or app built a track — ‘wrote’ lyrics and a melody — that would not be eligible for a composition award. But if a human writes a track and AI is used to voice-model, or create a new voice or use somebody else’s voice, the performance would not be eligible, but the writing of the track and the lyric or top line would be eligible for an award.” He further clarified this statement by posting an Instagram video detailing that in this case, the song is not eligible for Grammy consideration; even though the track was written by a human, the vocals were not cleared by the artist, and the song is not commercially available.

The question still stands: Where do you draw the line for AI music? If the song didn’t sound like a famous rapper but an unknown artist instead, would it have been eligible? Did the backlash from the entertainment industry and consumers prompt this change in stance? Given it was the first time this type of nomination has been submitted, we don’t have much precedence to go on, but it will be interesting to see what guidelines will be put in place to ensure fairness for current and future artists who want to submit their music for consideration.