#GrammysSoMale? Yes, and so is the rest of the entertainment industry and most areas of life. Even so, it does not lessen the fact that the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 28 favored male musicians. Except for Alessia Cara, who took home the award for best new artist according to USA Today, eight of the nine main awards were won by men. It is not a new reality, but for many it was jarring considering the rise in dialogue around female empowerment that was facilitated by the Time’s Up movement. USA Today reported that Recording Academy president Neil Portnow is receiving backlash after suggesting that women should “step up” if they want to win an award. There were excellent male nominees in the categories offered at the award show and there can be only one winner. However, there is something puzzling — and downright frustrating — about men still feeling that women need to try harder. More so, we should ask why women are expected to go above-and-beyond their male counterparts, and even when they do, why the same choice to favor men is often made.
The redundant argument that arises during these moments is that there are more men than women who are qualified to be honored at an award show like the Grammys. This is simply not the case, and there was no shortage of outstanding female musicians who released critically acclaimed albums in 2017. Kesha, Lorde, Lady Gaga and SZA all wrote incredibly meaningful and powerful albums. The topics ranged from healing after letting go of the past and embracing one’s self-worth — for Kesha and Lorde — to loss in a family and sexual politics, by Lady Gaga and SZA, respectively. These topics are all relevant in our socio-political climate, and more so, deserve to be recognized for their candor. When looking back at music released in 2017, I consider these artists to be most deserving of their nominations, and the perseverance each artist employed to overcome obstacles while writing the albums deserved greater recognition.
One thought expressed following the Grammys was that male musicians were favored because the awards committee is male-dominated. At first glance, it seems that it could only be theoretically true, given that the contact information of the Academy’s voting members is not disclosed, according to The Balance, a website that offers financial insight and advice. Additionally, the Academy stated that the nominating and final voting stages involves ballots being sent to “voting members in good dues standing,” who represent the diverse areas of the music industry, such as vocalists, songwriters or producers. That in itself is incredibly vague, which is evidently the objective so that it does not appear like the award show is biased.
However, The New York Times wrote an article, “Gender Diversity in the Music Industry? The Numbers Are Grim” that should make us doubt whether bias can be ruled out. According to the article, Stacy L. Smith, the founder of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, conducted a study and found that in the genre of pop music, of the top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017, 22.4 percent of the 1,239 performing artists were women. The statistics offered are not contained to musicians. Also included were songwriters — with 12.3 percent of the 2,767 songwriters credited for the songs were women.
Likewise, female producers represented only “2 percent in a subset of 300 songs across this same period.” Smith said, “When it comes to women’s ability to contribute and to lead, they’re being shut out of the process.” That should lead us to understand that although strides are being made in other areas of the entertainment industry, music is still lagging behind. Moreover, the statistic that of the 899 musicians nominated for the last six Grammys “90.7 percent were men and 9.3 percent were women” is jarring and indicates a discrepancy, which would influence the voting body deciding the winners for each category.
Although it is important to be aware of the problematic statistics, we must also question why female musicians are expected to “do better” to be given an equal chance to achieve the same recognition as male musicians. Evidently, it is still a relevant issue if Portnow and others express that mentality, and it is evidently a much broader issue that all women encounter. Knowing that, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with my aunt last October. I was interviewing her for my course Women’s Activism in the 1960s, and the assignment was to interview a woman who grew up in the 1940s or early 50’s and was active in her community.
During our conversation, she said, “[Many people eventually looked at it like] it was fine to work and have a family. However, it wasn’t equal because now you have double duty. Women had to do everything. They did all house stuff, the domestic stuff and they had jobs.” Historically, we see that women are expected to be a little better and do a little more, yet should also expect less. No explanation can be derived than that women should expect to receive less because they are viewed as lesser. More so, these views may not be at the forefront of our minds, but are ingrained in our behaviors and remain systemic in the music industry, as well as our culture.