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The Grammys Need to Accept That They Have a Woman Problem

A new letter sent to members is oddly defensive when the Recording Academy should just hold its hands up and do better.

Lauren O'Neill

Lauren O'Neill

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As an emblem of the music industry establishment, it's no surprise that the Grammys has a woman problem, because – as we've seen from #MeToo and the consistent gender imbalance at festivals and awards shows – music has a woman problem.

Following criticism about Neil Portnow's clumsy comments on how women need to "step up" if they want to win Grammys, the Recording Academy announced that they'd implement a task force to examine how it can do better where gender parity is concerned. Now, however, it appears that they're doing damage control, as a new letter to voting and non-voting members, obtained by the Associated Press, appears pretty defensive in light of cold, hard facts.

A few weeks back, a study undertaken at University of Southern California – Annenberg (which we cited here) noted that in the five major Grammys categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Non-Classical Producer of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist), only 9.3 percent of nominees between 2012 and 2017 had been women, with production an especially male field.

You'd think that a statistic like that would make the Grammys sit up and listen, but instead, as AP report, they've made sure to highlight to members that across all 84 Grammys categories (most of which aren't televised, which is important, as one key issue that women artists and producers have repeatedly cited is the need for widespread representation, not simply recognition), actually 17 percent of nominees had been women. So there.

Presumably the memo is designed for damage control purposes, and to reassure members that the Recording Academy is working on its issues. Elsewhere it reads:

The gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community. But it’s not enough to reflect the community. We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50 percent of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level.


Here, they're acknowledging that there's an issue with the pipeline: women, and specifically women of colour, are underrepresented in music because it's much more difficult for them to break into the music industry, especially as producers and engineers. Which is true, but what the letter says is also correct: the Grammys should lead from the top down. If women are better represented and hailed as men's equals at the highest level, on the biggest platform, doesn't it follow that they might have a better ride all the way through? Let's hope that despite the weird defensiveness (17 percent of nominees being women is absolutely nothing to be proud of), the Recording Academy mean what they say, and will make a concerted effort to make sure that women – who contribute so much richness to the life of popular music – get what they deserve in future.

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