Staff Writer Rosie Lyons takes a look at the success of female artists over the course of 2023 and their representation in the upcoming Grammys.
2023 is the year for women in music. On Friday 10th November 2023, the nominations for the 66th Grammys were announced, due to air in February 2024. Among these nominations, one factor was clear: women were leading the main categories by a long way. In the major categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year), all nominees were women, bar Jon Batiste, an astounding achievement. With SZA nominated for 9 Grammys, Victoria Monet for 7, Taylor Swift and boygenius with 6, a stark feature of the nominations this year is women’s clear and undeniable presence. As the Editor-in-Chief of KCL’s women and politics journal, The Clandestine, it is safe to say that this year marks a profound moment of change in the music industry for women.
All major categories come starkly female-dominated this year compared to previous years, and these decisions by the Recording Academy can be seen as a major accomplishment not only for these women, but for increased female representation in the typically male-dominated awards show. In recent times, (2023-21), representation for Album of the Year, a main category, has been 50/50. This compares to previous years, such as 2015 and 2017, where women were 1/5 of the nominees for this category. Similarly, recent history on Record of the Year has been fairly poor. In 2017, women received 0 nominations, and in 2022, were 4/10 nominees (all the nominations information can be found here). Clearly, the 2024 nominees have marked a change.
Best Rock Song is a particularly refreshing category of the 2024 nominations. Both boygenius and Olivia Rodrigo were nominated for songs that don’t take themselves too seriously, making up 2/5 of the total nominations (other nominees include The Rolling Stones, Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters). Not Strong Enough is full of self-deprecation and self-awareness, a strand similar in Rodrigo’s ballad of a homeschooled girl. Both tracks give a refreshing take on navigating emotions, growing into adulthood, and relationships. With the category created in 1992, the award has reflected the disproportionately male presence within the genre of rock music more broadly. Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl combined have won more Grammys than women in this category ever have (8:7).
The problem with women’s representation runs deeper. Whilst this year can be characterised as an accomplished moment for women in music, it reflects a lack of equality both within the Recording Academy, and in the wider music industry. Controversially, in 2018 after only 1 woman won a Grammy (Alessia Cara for Best New Artist), the Recording Academy President said women should “step up”.
There is a long way to go. Whether women need to “step up” is an issue to be dissected on a wider level. It is more likely that women have experienced barriers towards their success that are being removed as more women enter the field and gain respect. Even Taylor Swift, one of the most successful artists of the decade, said in her 2019 Billboard Woman of the Decade speech:
As a female in this industry some people will always have slight reservations about you: whether you deserve to be there, whether your male producer or co-producer is the reason for your success…
Beyonce, the highest awarded artist at the Grammys, making history at last year’s awards, is one of two women out of the fourteen most awarded artists. Within the music industry itself, women’s opportunities are still extremely limited. The Recording Academy’s chief diversity, equality and inclusion officer said that women represent just 2% of producers and engineers. In the process of creating music, a study found that only 14.4% of songwriters in the Billboard Hot 100 Year End Chart in 2021 were women, whilst 3.9% made up producing positions. In a study from the Berklee College of Music and Women in Music, researchers found that gender-based discrimination is prevalent for women in music, with 77% feeling they had been treated differently in the industry due to their gender. Though the 2024 Grammy nominations have been an unprecedented year for women’s representation in all major categories, all those nominated for Producer of the Year (non-classical) are men, reflecting the lack of representation in the wider music industry as found in such studies.
Women are still underrepresented in more behind the scenes roles like producing and engineering, not to mention the sexism faced by many women as echoed by Swift’s comment on receipt of an immense award. The presence of women at the Grammys, such as SZA, Olivia Rodrigo, and boygenius, is incredibly important in showcasing that women’s voices and stories do have a place in music. On a wider level, within the music industry, women are still making their way into producing and engineering positions. The 2024 Grammy nominations are one step in the right direction.