Grammys’ response to criticism over lack of women nominees is late, and bad

‘The gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community’

The Recording Academy, the institution that produces the Grammy Awards, has been under fire recently over its failure to represent women artists properly. Lorde was reportedly not invited to perform solo despite being the only woman nominated for Album of the Year, and according a study from the University of Southern California (USC), over 90 per cent of nominees since 2013 have been men. After this year’s awards, Academy president Neil Portnow was widely criticised for comments saying that women simply need to “step up” to address the problem.

Over two weeks later, the Grammys have finally addressed these criticisms – though it’s hardly the most inspiring response. A letter circulated to members of the Academy, obtained by the AP, says that the USC’s statistic was misleading as it only looked at the five key categories of the awards (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and non-classical Producer of the Year), and that in fact 17 per cent of its recent nominees were women.

USC’s study states that women account for 22.4 per cent of performers, 12.3 per cent of songwriters, and two per cent of producers. Women make up 21 per cent of the academy’s voting membership. “The gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community,” the Academy’s letter states.

The Academy are right to criticise the USC study’s narrow focus, as women who work in non-public facing roles in the industry – from recording engineers to album sleeve designers – deserve credit for their work too. But this is slightly undermined by the fact that the Grammys do not televise the portion of their ceremony that awards these roles.

Likewise, it’s not entirely clear why the Grammys are touting that 17 per cent figure as if that’s somehow good. To their credit, they do seem to be taking some steps to change this: “It’s not enough to reflect the community,” the letter continues. “We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50 per cent of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level.”

Tweaking the representational make-up for the Academy would be a positive step, but at the end of the day it won’t do much to address the systemic sexism in the music industry. Asking the people who preside over a broken system to fix it isn’t likely to yield great results – as we argued recently, widespread institutional change is needed, and that change goes beyond award ceremonies.