Last year's Grammy Awards were a true shit show for the representation of women. The one woman nominated for Album of the Year, Lorde, was not invited to perform on the show — but all the men nominated were. Only one woman, Alessia Cara, won an award during the actual telecast. Women were shut out as songwriters, with no Record of the Year nominations, and in Producer of the Year, not only were there no nominations for women, but no woman had been nominated since 2004 (!!!). When questioned about it afterward, the President and CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, suggested it was on women to “step up.” Cool story, bro.
A lot has changed in the ensuing months. The Grammys felt major blowback, both for their treatment of women in the era of #MeToo and for their historical lack of recognition for albums by diverse communities. To address the issue, the Grammys launched a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, headed by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff Tina Tchen, and invited some 900 new members to join the ranks of its voters, all handpicked by the task force — and their impact can be felt all over the 61st Annual Grammy Awards nominations.
Women are all over the Grammys top categories, all of which expanded from five nominees to eight for the first time this year. Record of the Year has five women nominated or co-billed with men, Album of the Year sees five women nominated plus one soundtrack with women featured; Song of the Year honoured no women songwriters last year, but this year five of the nominated songs have women songwriters (including a historic nomination for Teddy Geiger), and six of the eight Best New Artist nominees are women.
Cardi B is one of the most visible women nominated in the top categories, where she landed Record and Album of the Year nods. The last woman in hip hop to get the AOTY nod was Missy Elliot for 2004’s Under Construction, and the last to win was Lauryn Hill with her landmark 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That is incredible company for Cardi to be in, and a huge vote of confidence in her future by the Academy.
One of the most nominated artists, Brandi Carlile, is a gay Americana artist who, as we noted when By The Way, I Forgive You came out, should be embraced by mainstream country but is a little too smart for that genre and its radio-driven charts. The lack of recognition didn’t stop the Grammys from loading this career-best album down with six well-deserved nominations. Her recognition means so much, because this album that deals with the typically feminine issues of motherhood and relationships, but also talks about opioid addiction, LGBTQ visibility and acceptance, and even a murder ballad about the killing of a Jane Doe. Carlile’s excellent LP takes on a ripped-from-the-headlines vibe at times, wrapped in a crunchy Americana musical package, and it’s is a huge political statement in the Trump era. At a time when the presidential administration refuses to denounce white supremacists, won’t acknowledge the dozens of women who accused the president of sexual misconduct, and has tried to pass legislation to erase transgender people, nominating Carlile for this album is a huge fuck you on behalf of the Academy to the prevailing winds of nationalism that would attempt to blow us apart.
Speaking of country music, the Academy also sent a message to that arm of the industry by nominating Kacey Musgraves for Album of the Year. Her outstanding Golden Hour has landed at the top of many best album lists in 2018, even landing the CMA Album of the Year prize, despite being all but snubbed by country radio. In the Best Country Album category, the Academy nominates three women (Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, and Ashley McBryde) out of five in the same week that the country airplay charts, for the first time since 1990, included zero women.
Another important nomination can be found in the Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category, where Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink) is honoured this year. Perry breaks an embarrassing streak for the Academy, who have failed to nominate a woman as best producer since 2004. As the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found in their report, released just before the last Grammy Awards, women producers twiddled the knobs on only 2% of songs. Visibility matters: not seeing women nominated in this category for some 14 years sent a message that it’s not a job for women; it was imperative that the Grammys course-correct. With Perry’s Golden Globe nomination for Dumplin’, which was announced just yesterday, she’s in a prime position to be a serious contender.
Women have also foundered in the eyes of the Academy as songwriters, where the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found they wrote less than a quarter of the most popular songs over the last six years. The Song of the Year category reflects a shift, with six women nominated for their writing.
It’s highly unlikely we’ll see only one woman win an award during this year’s Grammy telecast on Sunday 10th February, 2019. And it’s about time.