“It’s all about women this year.”
That’s how Recording Academy president Neil Portnow described the 2019 Grammy Awards. And of course, there’s a level of irony to that statement: You may remember that after receiving criticism for last year’s lack of women nominees, Portnow said that women in music need to “step up,” sparking both a storm of backlash and a conversation about gender discrimination within the industry. This year, at least half of the nominees in each of the four major categories — Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Album Of The Year, and Best New Artist — are women. The nominations may as well have been announced with a sign flashing “damage control,” but it’s still better representation nonetheless.
If you look further down the list of nominees, though, you’ll find some genres that the new diversity task force seemed to miss: Rock and alternative. And it’s this music that the Grammys apparently still perceive to be very white and very male. Four out of five of the nominees for Best Rock Song are men, with the exception being St. Vincent (with Jack Antonoff). Even more alarming, all five albums nominated for Best Rock Album were made by all-male bands. When it comes to Best Alternative Music Album, the divide is marginally better, with three nominations for men and two for women (Björk and St. Vincent).
The criteria for these awards, like the criteria for what it means to belong to a genre in general, is confusing. St. Vincent is nominated for Best Rock Song, but her album falls under the alternative category. If you look back to previous nominations lists the trend has persistent roots — only two or three women are generally nominated in these genres each year, and are more often than not slotted into the alternative subgenre. In Grammys history, only two women have won Best Rock Album — Alanis Morissette in 1996 and Sheryl Crow in 1997 and 1999. Women, it seems, have a harder time easily fitting into the Grammys definition of rock considering a woman hasn’t won that award in two decades
The thing is, it’s hands down apparent that women made the best rock, alternative, and indie albums last year… so who’s going to tell the Grammys? Have they not been reading the trendy women in rock articles? In her piece for Noisey, Lauren O’Neil wrote, “Rock is a genre which has always shut women out — its annals are full of the faces of men, and year on year, interchangeable, pallid all-boy five pieces are tipped as the new saviors of indie, usually by male critics. And despite the fact that… women have been making diverse types of guitar music since rock’s inception, it’s still much harder for female artists to break through into wider consciousness as rock musicians.” This larger cultural notion applies to the Grammys: A ceremony that is supposed to reflect culture but often fails to look beyond old, traditional or outdated ideas. Artists like Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, Lucy Dacus, and the latter’s group, Boygenius, in which she plays with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, were some of the most impactful rock artists of the year, but they are all but absent from this year’s event.