Gatekeeping at the Grammys

The hierarchical structure of the Grammys, along with most other award shows, blow away the smokescreen of meritocracy in the entertainment industry. This year, as the Grammys turned 60, the winners were proof of a bias that came as no surprise: only 16 per cent of winners in all categories – and only one winner out of the top ten major awards – weren’t men. Lorde’s lack of invitation to play at the gala, despite all of her fellow Album of the Year nominees being invited, has been one of the most talked-about topics in the 48 hours leading up to the Grammys. Only nine per cent of nominees in the last six years have been non-men for the, supposedly, most prestigious award in music, which begs the question: are the Grammys still relevant if they demonstrate such a dedication to exclusion?

Inclusion in the Recording Studio, published this month by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an American think-tank organisation run by researchers at University of Southern California, is the first major study of diverse representation in the music industry this millennium, examining the gender and race/ethnicity of artists, producers and songwriters between 2012 and 2017. The stats it provides illuminate the “old boys” network of the music business who gatekeep while claiming to operate on an even playing field.

President of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, shot off his mouth on the night of the event, claiming that “women who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level to [need to] step up,” blaming the award show's lack of diversity on women’s lack of professional drive.

This kind of over-simplistic, gaslighting stance demonstrates the Recording Academy’s own embarrassing lack of knowledge about the complex intersections of discrimination artists who aren’t men face in this industry. The 2018 Annenberg study shows us that only 12.3 per cent of the 600 most popular songs of the last six years were penned by women, and that a measly two per cent of producers in the last five years have been women.

Grimes, a Canadian musician and record producer, is part of the two per cent. 

Grimes, a Canadian musician and record producer, is part of the two per cent. 

In terms of placing these facts in perspective, you can guarantee that women and non-binary people are not to blame for their own lack of representation at an “executive” level. Throughout the history of sound engineering, music production and electronic music, women and non-men have consistently had their work rejected and ripped off because of their lack of conformity to men or their narrowed standards. Tara Rodgers’ 2010 book Pink Noises: Women and Electronic Music and Sound gives an in-depth (but still limited) view of some of the women who have changed the landscape of music production in the twentieth century — most of whom who have been ignored by the Recording Academy.

During the Grammys’ Sunday night broadcast, Janelle Monàe was a voice of resistance amidst a mostly fluff night of oddly programmed tributes (Sting appeared on screen for separate features three times, despite having no nominations or awards that night). “We come in peace, but we mean business,” said Monàe, during a one-minute introduction to the anticipated performance of Praying by Kesha (who was backed up by some of music’s heaviest vocalists today). As one of the only speakers of the night to directly mention #Time’sUp and #MeToo on air during the two and a half hour broadcast, Monàe’s speech and the performance of Praying took up just 2 per cent of the awards’ broadcast, and served to help many people forget that Kesha didn’t win any of the awards her album Rainbows was nominated for. This emphatic marginalisation of this topic by the Grammys is shameful, but not surprising, since it’s precisely what non-men in music have been facing since before Eliane Radigue, one of the mothers of music production, whose work was repeatedly used without credit by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry in the 1960s. Radigue is still unmentioned in most electronic music classes where Schaeffer’s work is considered canon.

Time’s up for you, Recording Academy: it’s your turn to step up.