Diversity is one of the most important issues facing the music industry, both this year and every year. It’s a topic that is raised when a festival lineup gets revealed, when Spotify and Apple Music unveil their streaming charts, and when the Grammys offer up their latest batch of nominees. And for good reason, as the arts mirror the world at large, where the work of white men is given more weight and visibility by the powers that be, often largely because of systematic issues ranging from the maintenance of power to sheer ambivalence. It often seems that as loudly as people shout for change, improvement is incremental, with victories always tempered with how far there is yet to go.
This was felt with oppressive force in 2018. Coachella offered up their first-ever woman of color as a headliner in their 19th installment, but that win is accepted with the knowledge that Beyonce was only the third solo woman ever to hold that headlining slot — and that the lineup still only featured one woman for every two men. And this is still better than most festivals offer, with the opposite, a festival like FYF Fest, found that making a lineup that underscored diversity (including only women headliners) didn’t receive support from the ticket-buying public and had to cancel.
At the Grammys, wins for Bruno Mars in the three biggest categories (Album, Record, and Song Of The Year) is a victory for a ceremony that often disregards people of color — even if some also saw it as a case of cultural appropriation — but the flip of that coin was that fact that only two women were nominated at all in those three categories, Lorde and Julia Michaels. Lorde, of course, was famously snubbed by not even being given the opportunity to perform by herself. It’s these kinds of narratives across music’s biggest institutions that provides a great sense of frustration from music critics. Over the past decade, the field has made it a point of emphasis to include more diversity in places of power, and despite consistently ringing the bell for change in the industry, evolution occurs at a glacial pace.