Rock has spawned enough hitmaking women with guitars over the years to dispel the notion that the genre is a man’s world. Grammy voters, however, apparently have yet to receive the memo.
Ever since the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences merged Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance into one co-ed category — Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance — in 2005, voters have shown an overwhelming taste for testosterone in the Grammy rock categories. Between 2005 and 2012, just two women, Melissa Etheridge and Lucinda Williams, were even nominated for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, and neither of them won.
The Academy renamed the category Best Rock Performance in 2012, and six women or female-led acts since have secured nods: Alabama Shakes, Florence + The Machine, Elle King, Wolf Alice, Beyoncé (for her Jack White collaboration “Don’t Hurt Yourself” in 2017), and Halestorm. Yet, only Alabama Shakes, featuring lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, have gone all the way. When they scored with “Don’t Wanna Fight” in 2016, it was an unusual year in which Foo Fighters was the lone nominee without a female voice.
That was a one-time detour from the norm: Grammy’s Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song categories have been far more conspicuously and consistently dominated by men. Between 1992 and 2019, only five women have written, co-written or sung Best Rock Song winners. Meanwhile, although a handful of albums by female rockers have made the Best Rock Album shortlist since the award debuted in 1995, with Alanis Morissette winning once and Sheryl Crow twice, the last 15 years have seen no ladies in the running. The last time a female performer was nominated was in 2004 when Evanescence, featuring Amy Lee on vocals, scored a nod for “Fallen.”
You’d have to go back to the previous year to find a single lady competing for Best Rock Album: Crow with “C’mon C’mon.” Now, 16 years later, Crow, a 25-year recording veteran, is threatening to bring a female point of view back to the category with “Threads,” her 11th studio album. If it takes Best Rock Album, it would be the first win by a woman since Crow’s last Best Rock Album win in 1998, for “The Globe Sessions.”
The collection, which was released on August 30, the day before the end of the eligibility period for the 2020 Grammys, manages a neat balancing act, moving effortlessly between rock and country. It features an assortment of heavy-hitting veterans playing and singing alongside Crow, including Grammy favorites Maren Morris, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Sting, James Taylor, and Vince Gill. There are also some surprise guests — soul legend Mavis Staples, rapper Chuck D, rising R&B singer-songwriter Andra Day — whom you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear helping Sheryl Crow move effortlessly between rock and country.
If her assorted special guests don’t increase her Grammy chances — think of similarly star-studded Album of the Year winners like Quincy Jones’s “Back on the Block,” Santana’s “Supernatural,” Ray Charles’s “Genius Loves Company,” and Herbie Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters” — how about this: Crow has said “Threads” will be the final studio album of her career. (Going forward, she’ll focus on releasing singles and live performances.)
Grammy voters might not want to miss this opportunity to reward her again for old times’ sake, and one of the rock categories would be the most likely place for them to honor her.
Crow already has a long and impressive history with the Academy. They named her Best New Artist in 1994 and also awarded her with Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her breakout hit “All I Wanna Do.” Since then, she’s notched six more Grammys, all in the rock categories. Two of those wins were for Best Rock Album (“Sheryl Crow” in 1996 and the aforementioned “The Globe Sessions”). Her most recent Grammy triumph, Best Rock Female Vocal Performance for “Steve McQueen,” was in 2003, so the Academy might insist on sending her off in Grammy-winning style.
It’s been a minute since Crow last turned Grammy heads, though. Her last nomination was in 2009, when “Detours” was up for Best Pop Vocal Album. In the years since “Steve McQueen” gave the singer-songwriter her last award, all six of her nods have been in the pop and country categories. That begs the question: Does Grammy’s rock contingent now consider her too soft, while the pop side deems her too rock or too country? She released four albums between “Detours” and “Threads” and not one of them netted her a single Grammy nomination.
Her recent string of Grammy snubs nonetheless should end with “Threads.” Its strategic release date indicates that her label, the Nashville-based Big Machine Records, former home of Taylor Swift, recognizes its Grammy potential. Although “Threads” wasn’t a big seller, with such stellar Grammy-bait backup, it still should easily grab voters’ attention. Even if it doesn’t sneak into the Best Rock Album race, the single “Still the Good Old Days,” featuring The Eagles’ Joe Walsh, has enough stomp to secure Crow her first rock nod in 16 years.
Best Rock Album might be a longer shot, especially with another vet, Bruce Springsteen, a three-time nominee and 2003 winner for “The Rising,” likely to make a strong bid with his critically acclaimed 2019 album “Western Stars.” But if the last three acts to take the big prize — Cage the Elephant, The War on Drugs, and Greta Van Fleet — reconfirmed any Grammy truths, one would be to never underestimate the power of a dark-horse nominee. Another? That massive sales aren’t everything when it comes to Grammy momentum.
So who knows? A big Grammy win might even convince Crow to keep the albums coming. Rock and roll needs all the woman power it can get.