How many times have we heard someone proclaim a “Year of the Women” at the Grammy Awards? Last year, it was Adele’s turn to lead the brigade, with six big wins. Beyoncé put up identical numbers in 2010, the same night Taylor Swift notched four wins (including Album of the Year). And in 2008, late British singer Amy Winehouse was absent but snagged five trophies. Otherwise, the Golden Gramophones have been pretty evenly split between the sexes over the past decade.
On Sunday, though, the 55th annual awards show is likely to be dominated by the fellas, as men are the leading nominees in all major categories, fronted by seven male acts who have the most nods of anyone in contention.
At the head of the parade are Fun., Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean and Kanye West with six noms each, followed by the Black Keys and Miguel with five apiece. The domination begins with the night’s biggest category, Album of the Year, which is an all-male affair, with nods for the Keys, Fun., Mumford, Ocean and Jack White.
Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow cautioned against reading too much into the testosterone overload. “It’s just a matter of people making music all the time, and in any given year, there will be music coming from different genres, different age groups, some male, some female, and it’s all how it works in our mix and more a matter of the calendar than anything else,” he said.
Portnow doesn’t see this year’s male domination as being a sign that men will be running the board for the next few years, only that this year there happen to be a lot of male nominees. “That’s not to say that next year it won’t be lots of women,” he said, noting that there were more than 17,500 albums eligible for nomination this year, a figure right around last year’s all-time high. Either way, he was not about to make any predictions about what the gender split might be once all is said and done on Sunday night.
“Maybe it’s a pendulum swing, a quirk of the release schedule or just a coincidence, but with awards shows, we’re always looking for an indication of a cultural shift,” said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts/retail for Billboard magazine.
Whether it’s the year of the woman, the year of pop or the dude parade, Caulfield said the media (guilty as charged) like to find a storyline that bucks the Grammy tradition. “It’s just a breakthrough year for certain kinds of acts, and they just happen to be guys,” he said, agreeing with Portnow that timing is (just about) everything when it comes to Grammy nominations.
It doesn’t mean no women put out albums that were just as worthy contenders for the top prize, only that, for one reason or another, the releases Recording Academy voters decided were worthy of Album of the Year in 2013 all happen to be by male groups or singers.
And while it was clear Adele was going to sweep the night last year, Caulfield said he didn’t necessarily see an act — male or female — primed for that kind of domination this year.
Whether it’s a trend or a quirk, men don’t rule all the Grammy categories, though. Kelly Clarkson and Swift got into the action for Record of the Year, in which they’ll face off against the Keys, Fun. (with Janelle Monáe), Gotye (with Kimbra) and Ocean. But a number of categories feature no main female performer nominations, including Best Dance Recording, Best Dance/Electronic Album, Best Rock Song and Album (if it wasn’t for the Brittany Howard-led Alabama Shakes, Best Rock Performance would also be a female-free zone), Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album.
Only Carrie Underwood was able to break the stranglehold in the Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song categories, lorded over by the likes of Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Ronnie Dunn, Hunter Hayes, the Eli Young Band, Alan Jackson and Blake Shelton.
None of this is suggesting that women have been shut out this year. In fact, Best Pop Vocal Album is well represented by Clarkson, Pink and Florence and the Machine, who will face off against Fun. and Maroon 5. And Best Pop Solo Performance is a shutout for the men, with Adele, Clarkson, Rihanna, Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen running the board.
“The good news is that men and women are making great music, and the only thing we have to watch out for is if we wind up having another class of music being made by robots,” Portnow said. “Other than that, it will continue to ping-pong back and forth.”
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