When the nominations dropped for the 66th Grammy Awards, there was one talking point which stole the headlines. In an incredibly uncharacteristic move, the Recording Academy filled their major categories with female artists, with only one man being nominated across the biggest three categories. Pop megastars like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo swept up with their albums Midnights and GUTS, and, more interestingly, indie band boygenius, consisting of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, featured in all three categories. Lana del Rey, who has been famously snubbed by the Academy in the past, picked up nods in both Album and Song of the Year too. In other major categories, all the Pop Solo Performance nominees were women, and the only man in the Pop Vocal Album was Ed Sheeran (sigh). 

If you had read these statistics to someone interested in the awards just 5 years ago, they simply wouldn’t have believed you. The Grammys have a pretty tarnished relationship with women in general, with some notable scandals happening far more recently than you may have expected. In 2018, Lorde was the only Album of the Year nominee not to be offered a solo performance slot on the night of the ceremony – she just so happened to also be the only woman up for the award. After this, her mother took to Twitter to justify Lorde’s anger about the situation, highlighting the fact that just 9% of the nominees across all categories were women. That is an astonishingly low number, and a stark contrast to this year’s showing.

Is this evidence, then, that the Academy and the music industry as a whole are taking steps in the right direction? The cynic in me isn’t quite convinced. There are issues faced by women in the music industry which are bigger and more important than receiving little golden gramophones, and the Recording Academy and its members are guilty of reinforcing many of these problems. You can nominate as many billionaire pop stars as you want, but when you are platforming men notorious for mistreating women in the very same breath, it seems to make the whole movement redundant. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Grammys are continuing to do.

It’s very difficult to think of any musician with a more egregious and well-documented history of abuse than Chris Brown. Since his brutal and highly publicised attack on Rihanna as a teenager, he has hardly kept a low profile. The range of his alleged abusive actions extends from attacking Frank Ocean outside a recording studio and reportedly punching a photographer, to having a restraining order placed on him by ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran and being sued for sexual assault. Despite the most recent of these allegations coming to light in January 2022, he is continually facilitated by the music industry. In fact, he picked up yet another Grammy nomination this year for his typically mediocre horny hit, “Summer Too Hot”, in the Best R&B Performance category. 

Of course this isn’t the only example of a dangerous man being recognised on this stage, but to me, it perfectly demonstrates why nominating women in flagship categories doesn’t represent some great improvement within the Academy. A glance across the headlines covering the nominations would make you believe that the Grammys are a pioneering platform for female inclusivity and that women are on top in the music industry. However, when you really get to the crux of the matter, the Academy continues to celebrate men who appear to embody every reason why it is so much harder to be a woman in music. This suits their interests to a tee. They can reap the positive press for recognising deserved female musicians, without addressing the far more difficult issue – taking on the powerful men at the root of the problem.

In fairness to the Grammys, they are much more of a valid representation of the music industry than they once were. Since eliminating the ‘secret’ committees which had control over the published nominations, the artists that feature as nominees are the result of the opinions of the 12,000 voting members, consisting of a wide range of music professionals. This, combined with the fact that the Academy pledged to double the number of female voting members in 2021, may explain why female musicians are getting more recognition this year than ever before. On the other hand, this makes the fact that such problematic artists are still appearing on the nomination list that bit more concerning. We can’t attribute these decisions to a boardroom of suited men, as it simply represents the popular opinion amongst musicians.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to what really constitutes progress for women in the music industry. If the goal is to improve the reputation of the biggest organisations in the business, then the recent list of nominations is a pretty good result. However, if the aim is to provide a safe platform for women to make vital musical contributions, it’s really not that notable. While the Grammys continue to promote men who so clearly endanger women, they are sending a message that the music industry isn’t a safe space, even if they simultaneously show that women can win the biggest awards. Furthermore, it demonstrates to men that their actions, no matter how numerous and deplorable, won’t prevent them from existing at the summit of the musical landscape. It is partly because of this that nearly two-thirds of women in the music industry feel that sexual harassment is a key challenge. 

So yes, it is great that extremely talented women seem to be finally receiving the praise and recognition that they deserve. However, this in no way means that the music industry is a place of equal treatment between genders. And, as the Grammys appear to be the only award show capable of maintaining an audience, it’s more important than ever that the individuals recognised represent values that we want to see in the industry.