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Why Lizzo’s epic Grammy nominations haul matters so much more than you think

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The singer has nabbed a nomination for eight of the award show’s biggest prizes, including Album of the Year. Here’s why that’s so important.

Two years ago, at the 2018 Grammys, only one woman mounted the stage at the awards ceremony and delivered an acceptance speech as the winner of a solo award. Just one, Alessia Cara, who was named Best New Artist at the 2018 Grammy Awards.

At the time, Grammys president Neil Portnow seemed to suggest that the glaring lack of female performers winning top prizes at his awards ceremony was a problem for women themselves to solve. “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” Portnow said at the time. “[The need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.” 

Well, Lizzo has stepped up. In the two years since Portnow made those comments demanding not that the music industry change the gendered way it views artists but for women to “step up”, Lizzo has gone from jobbing musician to global creative force. 

Less than a year after Portnow asked for women to “step up”, Lizzo did just that when she released Juice, the first single from the album that would go on to top the Billboard charts. That record, Cuz I Love You, has just been nominated for Album of the Year, the music industry’s highest achievement. Alongside that nomination, Lizzo has also been recognised in all of the Grammy’s biggest categories, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. 

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What can we say, it’s a good year to be Lizzo. The musician has dominated cultural conversation in 2019 with her music preaching self-love and body positivity. She made her film debut in Hustlers and has performed to sold-out crowds everywhere from Denmark to Detroit. A forthcoming performance at the Sydney Opera House in January 2020, just before the 2020 Grammy Awards are held, was rumoured to have more than 12,000 people in the queue waiting to purchase tickets.

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“This has been an incredible year for music and I’m just so thankful to even be part of it,” Lizzo tweeted, after hearing the news of her Grammy nominations. “We are all winners. I love you. Have a blessed day.”

We are all winners, especially in a world that has Lizzo in it. And Billie Eilish, and Ariana Grande, and Lana del Rey, some of the other women whose work in 2019 has received Grammy nominations. In fact, women did more than just “step up” this year, they dominated. There were more women nominated for Album of the Year than men and female artists or female-fronted bands were found in almost every category.

‘Twas not always thus at the Grammys. In the 2010s, do you know what percentage of winners in the Album of the Year category were women? 6.6%. This, in a period in which iconic records like Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion, FKA Twigs’ LP1, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Rihanna’s Anti and Lorde’s Melodrama were all released. (In this period, Adele and Taylor Swift were the only female artists to win Album of the Year, for 25 and 1989 respectively. Both Adele and Swift are previous winners of Album of the Year, and remain the only women to win twice in the history of the Grammys. Let that sink in for a second there. Not even Beyoncé has won Album of the Year twice.) 

adele
Adele won 6 Grammy Awards in 2012 for her album, 21.

After 2018’s appalling ceremony, at which only 17 of 86 Grammys were awarded to women or female-fronted groups, things changed. In 2019, the number of Grammys handed to female artists increased by 82%, with winners including Cardi B, Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves and Lady Gaga.

The 2020 Grammys looks set to continue in this tradition. Lizzo is the artist with the most nominations, but also recognised are women including Billie Eilish (six nominations), Ariana Grande (five nominations), HER (five nominations) and Beyoncé, who was nominated four times for her work on the soundtrack of The Lion King and her Netflix documentary Homecoming. When the 2020 Grammys rolls around next year, you can bet that these women and more, including Swift and Rey, will be dominating the night’s performances, too.

Maybe you can think of this as women ‘stepping up’, to use Portnow’s unfortunate parlance. Or maybe you can think of it as a radical and long-awaited shift in the music industry to finally broaden its conception of what an awards-worthy record might be. Maybe the Grammys are finally realising that women don’t have to ‘step up’ to produce good music. They’re already doing it. They’ve been doing it for decades and decades. 

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In previous years, the Grammys might have overlooked the genre-blending music of someone like Lizzo. They might have been confused by her ebullient talent, her sheer technical bravura and mastery of not only rapping and song but the flute as well. 

They might not have known where to put her as an artist. They certainly overlooked her previous records, released throughout the early 2010s, none of which have been nominated for Grammys. They definitely didn’t see in Lizzo what so many women have seen these past few years: an artist who gives voice to very concerns of what it means to be a woman today. 

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Well, they see her now. Finally. Lizzo is garlanding her trailblazing 2019 with an epic, eight Grammy nominations haul, hurtling into 2020 with the celebratory energy of an about-to-be-popped bottle of champagne.

The next time Lizzo ‘steps up’, we hope it’s directly onto the Grammys stage to accept Album of the Year. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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