The Grammys Are Responding To Last Year’s Backlash, But Is It Enough?


How relevant are the Grammys in 2018? At this point, the internet has done an excellent job of breaking up the former Pangea of the American music industry, and for anyone who still cares about these things, it can sometimes feel like all of the musical subcultures and the machines that drive them are located on their own separate continents, slowly drifting apart from one another.

But in this strange, splintered landscape, there is simply no equivalent to the Grammys, which have been around since 1958. Music awards shows are struggling to keep up with the cultural conversation, rather than being at the forefront of it, as they once were; almost no one (under the age of 40, at least) is looking to the Grammys to point them in the direction of what artists they should be listening to. But this is the reality: the Grammys may not fit our current moment perfectly, but when it comes to recognizing musical artists and their accomplishments, they are what we’ve got.

Last year, the Grammy Awards, as well as their governing body the Recording Academy, were roundly criticized for including so few female nominees in their top four categories: Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best New Artist. Those nominations included just six women total, including songwriters and producers, and only one of those women, Alessia Cara, won a major award. To place it in a larger context of the last six years, here’s a statistic that we’ve cited in Audia materials again and again: according to a report published last January by the University of California, of the 899 people nominated for Grammy Awards between 2013 and 2018, only 9 percent were women. In the wake of the conversation around the lack of recognition for women’s musical accomplishments, both by the Recording Academy at last year’s Grammys and in the music industry more generally, we decided to start this website.

Last year’s backlash was further fueled by Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s tone-deaf response that women needed to “step up” in order to be recognized with a nomination. Fittingly, he’s agreed to step down in July of 2019, and in the meantime, the Academy has hired Tina Tchien, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, to lead a Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. Tchien has made it a priority to invite 900 new academy members who are either women of color/people of color, under the age of 39, or all of the above.

Which brings us to the 2019 nominations, where those changes have started to bear some fruit. Twenty-two of the artists in the four major categories are female, with heavy recognition for Cardi B (Record Of The Year for “I Like It” and Album of the Year for Invasion of Privacy, plus three more nominations in the rap/R&B categories); Brandi Carlile (Record Of The Year for “The Joke” and Album of the Year for By The Way, I Forgive You); Lady Gaga (Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year for “Shallow”, from this year’s movie A Star Is Born); and SZA (Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year, with Kendrick Lamar, for “All The Stars”). Of the eight nominees in the Best New Artist category, six are female.

It’s a step in the right direction, certainly, but we can’t let the momentum stop here. After the outcry over the #MeToo movement in the past year, there has been a slow creep of outed men back into public life, if they ever left at all. Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, and James Franco all come to mind. This isn’t to say that the movement has been a failure; far from it. This is just to say that, as consumers of pop culture, we sometimes tend to have short memories.

At Audia, we hope that we don’t all just collectively pat the Recording Academy on the back for this year’s picks and move on. If we want to see incremental change that is sustained over time, it’s important for us to remember that the people making decisions about who to nominate for awards, who to sign to record labels, who to promote and play on the radio, and who to book at venues are still largely male. If we want to see this change reflected in every facet of the music industry, the top isn’t a bad place to start, but we need to make sure we hold those in power accountable to keep it going.

Katherine Flynn