It’s no understatement to say that the Grammy Awards faced some challenges with their 2019 nominations. While the nominee list for the 2018 awards was the most racially diverse in the Recording Academy’s history, it was painfully low on female representation — three of the four main categories each had one female nominee — a dynamic that continued with the winners’ list and the show itself. Asked by Variety after the show what female artists and executives might do to improve that situation, Grammy chief Neil Portnow said they needed to “step up.” While he later insisted he’d misspoken, the damage was done, and a firestorm of criticism ensued that saw the Grammys establish an internal task force to further diversity, and culminated with Portnow announcing that he will step down from his post in July, 2019.
The organization seems to have taken the criticism to heart: Five out of seven 2019 best album nominees are by female artists, and the eighth nominee — the “Black Panther” soundtrack compilation — features female artists. Six of the eight nominees for new artist are women; five of the eight nominees for song of the year, and four of the eight for record of the year, are by female artists or co-billed with male artists. With some exceptions, the inclusion trickles all the way down to the blues and mastering engineer categories.
That’s not the only sign of a sea change: veteran singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile and R&B newcomer H.E.R., hardly household names, have a whopping six nominations and five nominations, respectively, with Carlile second only to superstars Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Cardi B, Childish Gambino, Maren Morris and Lady Gaga all have five noms as well; Post Malone and Kacey Musgraves each have four, all of which seems to suggest the Grammys embracing the fringes (comparatively, anyway) on a larger scale than they may ever have done before.
To that end, pop — which dominated in the 2018 awards, as Bruno Mars took three of the four top categories — was pushed to the margins (again, comparatively). Heavily tipped singers including Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa and Bebe Rexha had massive singles in 2018 but received just two noms apiece, and Taylor Swift — who’s won 10 Grammys from 32 nominations before her 30th birthday — received just one, in a pop category, for her “Reputation” album.
The 2019 list is far from perfect — emo rap, the fast-rising and multi-billion-streamed genre driven by such rappers as Juice Wrld, Lil Pump and the late XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, was completely shut out — and as with all awards, there’s a sense that some were snubbed while others were overly favored. But the nominees for the 2019 Grammy Awards feel like a step in the right direction.