What did it take for women to finally dominate major categories at the Grammy Awards?
One year after women were barely acknowledged by the most prestigious honor the American music industry has to offer, the nominees for the 2019 Grammys are flush with female talent. And all the nominees are led by Kendrick Lamar, who scooped up eight, seven for his work on the soundtrack to Black Panther.
Women dominate the four highest-profile categories: record of the year, song of the year, album of the year, and best new artist. In fact, six of the eight nominees for best new artist are women: Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith. (This suggests the recording academy is still more comfortable with the idea of a female ingenue than an established woman in the industry who is older than 25, but progress is a zig-zag, etc.)
Five of the eight nominees for album of the year are women, too: regular degular shmegular girl from the Bronx Cardi B. (Invasion of Privacy), H.E.R.’s self-titled debut, Janelle Monae’s self-described “emotion picture” Dirty Computer, and two critically-adored yet radio-ignored women of country, Kacey Musgraves (Golden Hour) and Brandi Carlile (By The Way, I Forgive You).
So, assuming that women did not suddenly — miraculously! — become more talented and worthy of celebration, what changed?
Was it that women needed to “step up,” as recording academy president Neil Portnow said after the 2018 Grammy Awards saw exactly one woman (Alessia Cara) win a trophy during the televised portion of the evening and the only woman nominated for album of the year (Lorde, for Melodrama) be denied a performance slot, while all the male nominees in the same category were invited to take the stage?
Portnow, who also insisted that the Grammys did not have a race problem despite years — and years and years and years — of white artists winning over artists of color in the biggest categories of the show, apologized amid calls for his resignation. And, in a fitting turn of events for his “step up” gaffe, he will be stepping down next year.
So what did it actually take for the Grammys to make progress? This year’s nominees are the result of a concerted effort by the recording academy to recognize the excellence that was already there.
Chief among these efforts was convening a task force on diversity and inclusion led by Tina Tchen, head of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund (and former chief of staff for then-FLOTUS Michelle Obama). The task force’s first big effort came in October when they invited 900 new voting members, all of whom are female and/or people of color and/or under the age of 39.
This is also the first year where the top four categories have eight nominees apiece, up from five in previous years.
After Lamar, Drake pulled in the second-most nominations, with seven. Lady Gaga scored five, four of which were for “Shallow,” the most meme-worthy song of the year. (The soundtrack for A Star Is Born was released too late for this year’s eligibility, but the single made it in under the wire). Also racking up five nominees: Cardi B, H.E.R., country singer-songwriter Maren Morris, Childish Gambino, producer Sounwave and engineer Mike Bozzi.
Artists who landed four nominations apiece are Musgraves, SZA (who is having quite the week; she picked up a Golden Globe nomination with Lamar for Black Panther‘s “All the Stars” on Thursday), Post Malone, PJ Morton, Dave Cobb, Ludwig Goransson, and Noah Shebib.
The Grammy Awards air on CBS on Sunday, Feb. 10.