Two weeks ago, the 60th Grammy Awards took place, during which The Recording Academy honored musicians like Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, and Kendrick Lamar with gilded gramophones. Though largely considered to be the “Oscars of music,” the Grammys are somewhat unique as far as the main Award shows go, considering, well, no one seems to really like them.
Many publications and writers before me, such as Randall Roberts for the LA Times, have pondered the various reasons why the Grammy Awards are not taken seriously. As Lawrence Burney wrote for Noisey wrote after the ceremony, “…the show felt more like a temporary solution to criticism concerning race and gender without doing the real heavy lifting that would ensure viewers that the ceremony actually reflected what people thought and felt.” Critics such as Josh Daniel with Slate have also noted the Recording Academy’s apparent obsession with chart performance over perceived quality, while others like Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic take issue with the lack of diversity in both nominations and award winners. The former complaint will always carry some level of subjectivity (what does it mean to be deserving of a Grammy Award?) but, when looking at the history of the Grammys, the latter is pretty hard to deny. For example, prior to Bruno Mars sweeping the main awards at this year’s show, the recipients of the Album of the Year Award have been overwhelmingly white. In fact, you have to go as far back as 10 years just to find a non-white recipient of that award (Herbie Hancock in 2008).
Since the spectacle aired, the conversations about the 60th Grammy Awards have not been particularly laudatory. Across the board, publications like Vox, Stereogum, Variety, and Pitchfork called out the Grammys, expressing criticisms consistent with those mentioned above. This time around, be it in publications or on Twitter, the main issue viewers had with the Grammys was the striking lack of female representation amongst the winners, and the manner in which the Grammys treated major female artists like Lorde, who was not asked to perform solo. The most memorable female-led performance was by Kesha, who sang about the abuse she has suffered to a room filled with her abuser’s friends, colleagues, and supporters.
The Recording Academy’s lopsided treatment of women was especially present this year, but when looking at the history of the Grammy Awards over the past 10 years, it is clear that this is nothing new.
When it comes to the main four Awards (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist), the Grammys actually hasn’t been egregious in terms of female representation. For instance, a total of 127 of the nominations for these four awards since 2008 have been for men, with women receiving 94, or 42.5% of the nominations — a much better showing than when you isolate the most recent Grammys, where women received only 5 (25%) of the nominations for these awards. As for the winners of these awards, the results are almost dead even; men have won 23 times, women have won 21 times. Not bad, Grammys!
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the categories. The Grammys have adjusted their awards quite a bit over the years, so for many of the genre-specific categories, I was able to look back only as far as 2012. I selected 30 categories that include the main four and span the genres of pop, rock, R&B, alternative, rap, and country. I also included the “Producer of the Year, Non-Classical” award to round it out to an even 30. Take a look at how the nominations have broken down by gender at the awards of the past 7 award shows:
*Note that every year but 2012 includes the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category, which was added in 2013.
Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty hard to deny that the Grammys skew significantly male. This chart represents 1,055 nominations since 2012, 741 of which (70.24%) were given to men. When you realize that only roughly 30% of the nominations at that past seven Grammys have been for female artists, it is a little less shocking that only 25% of the 2018 Grammys nominations were for women. This lack of representation is staggering, but unfortunately, this is not unique to the 60th Grammys.
In terms of actual winners, the numbers are consistent. Among these 30 categories, there have been 209 winners since 2012. 151, or 72.25%, have been male, and 58, or 27.75%, have been female.
Which genres are most responsible for the disparity in nominations by genres? Here are the nominations across 7 individual genre categories since 2012:Not a single genre category has favored female nominees over the years, though Country has come close. Rock, Alternative, Dance, and Rap are the worst offenders in terms of lack of female representation. Let’s look at the winners:
The only surprise here is that, despite receiving only 46.5% of the nominations, female Country musicians take home an award 64.3% of the time. The only other categories in which women have won at a higher percentage than they have been nominated are Rock (women have won 14.3% of the awards despite being nominated for only 9.8%) and Alternative (women have won 28.6% compared to being nominated for 20%). Other callouts to mention: Rap has not awarded a single female artist an award during this time period, and Dance has only awarded one.
When asked about the blatant imbalance of male vs. female winners and nominations, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow infamously stated that female artists need to “step up.” But how is it women who need to “step up” when they made up 4 out of the 5 nominees for Best Pop Solo Performance, and still lost to Ed Sheeran? How is it women who need to “step up” when Lorde released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year and was nominated in just one category, and not even permitted to perform? Furthermore, how is it on women to make up for this disparity, when it is women who must overcome the ever-present burden of institutional sexism and – in the case of women of color – racism to make their voices heard?
The answer, of course, is that it isn’t women who need to step up – it is the Grammys and the music industry as a whole that must shift priorities and acknowledge the barriers to success that female musicians continue to face. Until we see an unprecedented level of change in the music industry, we are likely to see next year’s Grammys play out the same way that they did this year.