The Grammy Awards deserve props for this year’s diversity, but there’s still work to be done

Kesha is expected to perform her song "Praying" on Sunday's Grammy Awards.
(Isabel Infantes / PA Wire / Abaca Press)
Pop Music Critic

In the two months since the Recording Academy announced the nominations for the 60th Grammy Awards, the music industry has been roundly — and rightly — congratulated for providing some diversity among those in the running for pop’s most prestigious honor.

Rappers Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar lead the field heading into Sunday’s ceremony, and they’re joined in the major categories by Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino and the Puerto Rican duo of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, who teamed to create 2017’s biggest song, “Despacito.”

For an awards show notorious for privileging white guys with guitars — even (or especially) at moments when their work didn’t move the needle — this year’s nods represent a significant stride toward representation that accurately reflects music’s racial and cultural mix.

But let’s hold off on patting too many backs.


Even a casual look at the nominations reveals a woeful shortage of women up for the most coveted Grammys, which include album, record and song of the year.

In the album category, only one female artist — the young New Zealand singer and songwriter Lorde — is nominated, for her acclaimed “Melodrama.” Song of the year, which recognizes songwriters (as opposed to performers or producers), is better, with nods for the women who co-wrote “Despacito” and Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” as well as Julia Michaels, who penned her own pop hit “Issues.”

Yet record of the year has no female nominees — a perplexing depiction of a year that was all but soundtracked by Cardi B’s hip-hop smash “Bodak Yellow.”

The picture grows even more bleak in light of a USC study announced Thursday that found that men accounted for more than 90% of Grammy nominees between 2013 and 2018.

Given that profound gender imbalance — and the male-dominated power structure it indicates — maybe it should come as no surprise that the music business seems to have thus far been missing the #MeToo movement.

At the Golden Globes this month, actors and actresses wore black to symbolize Hollywood’s reckoning with the widespread abuse of an ever-growing number of women. And the Academy Awards are likely to address the problem in an even more explicit way.

Yet it’s unclear how the movement will be represented at the Grammys, beyond perhaps a performance by Kesha, whose song “Praying” (nominated for pop solo performance) describes a process of healing following years of court fights against her former producer, Dr. Luke, whom she accused of sexual assault.

In response, a group of female music professionals circulated an open letter this week urging Grammy attendees to wear white roses as a means of calling attention to the need for “equal representation in the workplace” and for “workplaces free of sexual harassment.”

Meg Harkins, an executive at Roc Nation, told The Times the initiative has garnered support from artists including Kelly Clarkson, Halsey, Fergie and Cyndi Lauper.

That grassroots effort is admirable, of course, and hopefully it attracts the attention it deserves.

But the Grammys themselves should take a more active role in this awakening. After all, the music industry is hardly free of the type of harassment that’s been exposed in Hollywood, as made clear by recent news stories detailing alleged misconduct by the likes of R. Kelly and Russell Simmons.

The difference is that music, as more of a men’s club (at least behind the scenes), appears more ready and able to minimize women’s accounts of abuse, one result of its proud reputation for sex and reckless behavior. See also the built-in redemption available to artists who mistreat women and then go on to release apparently heartfelt songs seeking forgiveness.

In 2012, don’t forget, Chris Brown was invited to perform on the Grammys only three years after he pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend, Rihanna.

“I just believe people deserve a second chance,” the show’s executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, told CBS at the time, and many, no doubt, would agree.

Along with dispensing second chances, though, the academy needs to recognize the positions of power its male members enjoy and work from the top down to establish a more equitable — and more realistic — balance.

It’s too late to fix this year’s nominations in that regard. But time’s not up to create a Grammys show that takes a productive stand.

Twitter: @mikaelwood


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