After last year’s Grammys, where just one woman won a solo award, this year’s ceremony was a breath of fresh air.
All in all, this year’s awards season hasn’t been stellar for women in entertainment. Our social media feeds might have been filled with photos of stars like Olivia Colman and Regina King clutching Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress gongs at the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the BAFTAs, but the truth is that very few women have triumphed in categories not explicitly aimed at their gender. Not a single woman was even nominated in the Best Director category at the aforementioned awards – and at the upcoming Oscars, women will be entirely absent from several gender-neutral categories including Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Film Editing.
The Grammys are always something of an awards season palate cleanser, interrupting the seemingly endless stream of film industry red carpets to celebrate the best music of the last 12 months. But this year, the Grammys were also refreshing for recognising women in big-ticket categories that didn’t start with the words ‘Best Female’.
Thirty-one women took home awards at the 61st annual Grammys on 10 February – an 82% increase from last year’s ceremony, when just 17 golden gramophones were handed out to women.
Arguably the most coveted award of all, Album of the Year, was bagged by country artist Kacey Musgraves for her dreamy, disco-infused album Golden Hour. Golden Hour was also named Best Country Album, while Musgraves’ singles Butterflies and Space Cowboy were recognised as Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song respectively.
Elsewhere, London-born dance-pop icon Dua Lipa received the award for Best New Artist, while everyone’s favourite Trump critic Cardi B was named the creator of the year’s Best Rap Album for her record Invasion of Privacy – making her the first solo woman in history to triumph in that category.
Ariana Grande’s Sweetener won Best Pop Vocal Album, and Lady Gaga nabbed two awards: Best Pop Solo Performance for Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?) and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for Shallow, with Bradley Cooper.
Later in the awards ceremony, the gong for Best R&B Album went to H.E.R. – aka Gabi Wilson – for her self-titled compilation album, and Ella Mai’s single Boo’d Up was named Best R&B Song. St Vincent was the rare guitar-wielding woman to triumph at this year’s Grammys, taking home the trophy in the Best Rock Song category for Masseducation.
None of this is to suggest that the music industry is a bastion of diversity when compared to Hollywood. A recent study found that less than a quarter of artists featured on the most popular songs of the last six years were women, with male producers outnumbering female producers 47:1. And while women won in many of the most prominent categories at this year’s Grammys, overall the majority of awards still went to male artists or bands fronted by men.
Neither does the Grammys have a great track record of recognising women artists. Just one woman, singer-songwriter Alessia Cara, won a solo award at the 2018 ceremony, prompting the viral hashtag #GrammysSoMale.
That situation was made significantly worse when Neil Portnow, the president of the organisation that produces the Grammys, suggested that women should “step up” if they wanted to win awards.
His response sparked outrage and derision from female musicians including Charli XCX, Sheryl Crow and Pink. In a post on Twitter, Pink wrote: “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ – women have been stepping since the beginning of time.” Dua Lipa appeared to allude to Portnow’s comments when accepting her Best New Artist award at this year’s ceremony, remarking: “I guess this year we really stepped up.”
But the Grammys’ questionable history when it comes to recognising women artists doesn’t detract from the strength of this year’s winners list. And one notable thing about the Grammys is that – unlike the vast majority of film and television awards shows – it divides categories by genre, not by gender.
In other words, there are not separate awards for Best New Female Artist and Best New Male Artist, or Best R&B Album by a Man and Best R&B Album by a Woman. And that means that when women win the most coveted awards – as they did this year – it feels like their brilliance has been recognised fully and without limitation.
Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy hasn’t just been deemed the year’s best rap album ‘by a woman’; it’s the best rap album of the year, full stop. In Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves didn’t just create the Female Album of the Year; she created the year’s best album, no gendered caveats required. And in a world where women artists still face systemic barriers to reaching the top, or see their achievements contextualised as being good ‘for a woman’, that’s something worth celebrating.
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