While film and television awarding institutions are scrambling to address the underrepresentation of people of color in their nominee selections, a new study reveals that the Grammys have a completely different, but no less daunting problem. Earlier today, Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a report entitled “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” that found women are an extreme minority in the music industry. Dr. Smith analyzed the artists/creators behind 600 Billboard Hot 100 songs from 2012-2017, in addition to the Grammy nominees for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year over the last six years. The results show an astonishing exclusion of female voices, confirming that the music industry is indeed male-dominated. This data lends itself to some dreary outcomes for women of color, but the reality is even more complicated.
This report comes on the heels of the 2018 Grammys being praised for historic diversity wins — not a single white man is nominated for Album of the Year, and in the other three general categories, people of color dominate the nominee lists. The data in Smith’s study about which artists perform on the charts also supports this. According to the report, “8 out of the 14 most successful artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.” Drake had more charting hits than Justin Bieber, and Chris Brown tied with him. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj beat out Taylor Swift. As for the Grammys, 30% of the female nominations went to women of color. For what feels like the first time, women of color aren’t being outshone by white women.
So it seems the music industry, unlike film and television, recognizes the artistic contributions of people of color. But women of color, who sit at the unprivileged intersection of gender and race, are screwed either way. Among the nine people of color nominated in the Grammys general categories, SZA is the only woman of color. Cardi B., Ledisi, Kali Uchis, Rapsody, and even Beyoncé are interspersed between the R&B and rap categories. Jazzmeia Horn, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Jean Baylor from the Baylor Project are quietly nestled in the Jazz category.
And then there’s this: While the study did not analyze Grammy winners in the past several years to confirm the racial and gender breakdowns, history suggests that the numbers in the winner’s circle are even worse for minorities. You only need to listen to the buzzing of the disgruntled Beyhive (myself included) for an example of how whiteness typically wins out on music’s biggest night. Despite being twice-nominated, Beyoncé, the maker of one of the best albums of the decade, lost Album of the Year three times to white artists.
The Grammys took a few baby steps forward this year. Still, I’m not ready to call the Recording Academy entertainments beacon of inclusive hope. We have a long way to go before that will be realized.