Why Didn't More Women Win at the 2018 Grammys?

: Reporter Marian Cook.
Reporter Marian Cook.

Out of 84 categories, only 10 women won awards at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony in New York on Jan. 28. So what gives?

The most debated wins involved Ed Sheeran in Best Pop Solo Performance, Ed Sheeran in Best Pop Vocal Album and Bruno Mars. Mars won the most awards: seven, which included Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Sheeran’s win in Best Pop Solo Performance was controversial because he won in a category dominated by women: Kelly Clarkson, Kesha, Lady Gaga and P!nk. Sheeran also beat out Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga and Kesha for Best Pop Vocal Album, women who made headlines for their personal and vulnerable albums. Del Rey’s Lust for Life is her first “happy” album and an exploration of change. Lady Gaga’s Joanne is dedicated to her aunt who died of lupus; her aunt was also a singer and sexual assault survivor like Gaga. Kesha’s Rainbow is about a journey towards peace after having survived an eating disorder and after having commenced a legal feud with Dr. Luke, the producer she accused of emotional and sexual abuse. As for Mars, many have questioned the merit behind his sweeping wins.

Other points of discussion included Alessia Cara, SZA, Lorde and Cardi B. Alessia Cara, who won Best New Artist, was the only woman to win a major award. Meanwhile, SZA was nominated in five categories—the most of any woman—yet won zero awards. Lorde was the only woman nominated for Album of the Year and the only woman in that category not invited to deliver a solo performance. And Cardi B, despite being the first female rapper to top the Billboard chart in 19 years and the first Latina to top it in 11 years, lost to Kendrick Lamar in Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.

But this disparity at the Grammys is not new. A five-year study by USC Annenberg found that, from 2013-2018, only 9.3 percent of Grammy nominees were female; meanwhile, 90.7 percent were male. Furthermore, fewer than 10 percent of nominees for Record or Album of the Year were female. Others have also noted the fact that a black woman has not won Album of the Year since Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999.

During the awards ceremony, the hashtag #GrammysSoMale started trending on Twitter. When asked to respond to the hashtag, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said, “I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls—who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level—to step up, because I think they would be welcome.”

Despite men dominating the awards, the Grammys tried to seem supportive of women. Kesha--along with Camilla Cabello, Andra Day, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha and the Resistance Revival Chorus--performed her song “Praying,” which describes her rediscovering strength after having endured abuse and mental health problems.

Singer Janelle Monae introduced the performance by stating, “We come in peace, but we mean business, and to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up.”

Lady Gaga, Rihanna and P!nk were among other women who performed at the Grammys. Lady Gaga delivered a powerful piano rendition of “Joanne” and “Million Reasons.” Rihanna was the star of her, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller’s performance of “Wild Thoughts” with her vibrant choreography and attire that celebrated Harlem Renaissance. P!nk sung “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” in a white T-shirt and jeans, an unusual choice considering the singer’s penchant for eclectic outfits and choreography, but a thoughtful one considering the lyrics: “There's not enough rope to tie me down. There's not enough tape to shut this mouth. The stones you throw can make me bleed, but I won't stop until we're free.”

P!nk’s simple and white attire, though, was not random; it was a nod to the Time’s Up movement. Celebrities either wore white, carried white roses, donned pins, or created unique messages to support the movement. Kesha and her fellow performers wore white. Janelle Monae donned a Time’s Up and white rose pin. Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus, among others, carried white roses on the red carpet. And Lorde pinned the words of artist Jenny Holzer onto the back of her dress: “Rejoice! Our times are intolerable. Take coverage for the worst is a harbinger of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of oppressors. The old and corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Contradiction will be heightened. The reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom.”

The Time’s Up movement is an organization started by more than 300 women in Hollywood. It was formed in response to the wave of sexual allegations against Harvey Weinstein (and other Hollywood men) and the #MeToo movement. Its creation was also spurred by a letter from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance), who wrote a letter of solidarity to Hollywood women affected by sexual assault and harassment. Today, the group behind the movement offers a legal defense fund for victims of workplace harassment and assault. Earlier this month, the movement made a major statement by encouraging everyone to wear black to the 2018 Golden Globes.

Considering everything that’s recently been going on, why did the Grammys regress? Are the Recording Academy members—whose votes choose the Grammy winners—to blame? Its website states its members are composed of “singers, songwriters, engineers, producers, managers and a wide range of professionals working in the music industry.” Which makes everything all the more worrying considering USC Annesberg’s findings. The study found that for every 4.9 male artists there is one female artist, for every 7.1 male songwriters there is one female songwriter and the ratio of male to female producers across 300 popular songs is 49 to 1, among other shocking data.

So, is the problem--as Portnow states--because women haven’t “stepped up?” Or is the problem something different all together? Say, a vicious cycle that restricts opportunities for women? Maybe the reason more women didn’t win Grammys is because there are few women among the Recording Academy members. Maybe there are few female Recording Academy members because there are few women in the music industry. And maybe there are few women in the music industry because they have to choose between suffering through sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender bias or preserving their mental and physical health. Ultimately, maybe that’s the problem: that women shouldn’t have to give up their dreams due to threats to their well-being. In fact, nobody should.

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