Where Were the Women at The Grammys?
    • MONDAY, JANUARY 29, 2018

    • Posted by: Elissa Fertig

    Sewn to the back of her dress during the 60th Grammy Awards Ceremony, Lorde wore a feminist poem at the base of her spine that read, "the apocalypse will blossom", written by Jenny Holzer. This was just one small example of feminist defiance in what was otherwise a politically underwhelming Grammys show. Of the many solo artists who performed at the awards ceremony, most were not female--including Lorde, the only artist nominated for Album of the Year who was not asked to perform solo. After learning this, she chose not to participate in a Tom Petty tribute that took place during the ceremony. The poem attached to her dress could be seen as a direct response to Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich's feeble defense of his decision not to book Lorde: "We can't really deal with everyone," he reported when asked why she was not billed for a performance. "There's a box and it gets full."

    Meanwhile, Sting and Shaggy happily performed not one but two songs off their forthcoming album, but clearly there was no time for the singular female artist nominated for Best Goddamn Album of the Year to show her face onstage for three minutes.

    The past few months have seen a shift in attention in bringing justice and equality to women--everything from #MeToo, the revelations of dozens of high-powered media men as sexual abusers and perpetrators of assault, to the speeches at the Women's March last weekend by Halsey and others of their own traumatic experiences. Even the Golden Globes showed some semblance of supporting the rise of feminism in mainstream media and #MeToo: participants wore black dresses to show that they would not tolerate inequality in Hollywood any longer.

    But the Grammys were mostly absent of any feminist message. There was much anticipation leading up to it--would the Grammys have their own #MeToo moment--especially with so many progressive and overtly political artists like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino nominated for awards? But in the end, not only were we acutely disappointed with the weak gestures towards female artists but with the actual awards--only 17% of women received awards, and only one in a popular category: Alessia Cara for Best Emerging Artist.

    To add insult to injury, the president of the Grammys Neil Portnow went on to insist that women need to "step up because I think they would be welcome". He made sure to let us know that "I don't have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face" but that he wants to "make the welcome mat very obvious...for all people who want to be creative". Thanks, Neil. It isn't exactly lost on us that you "have no personal experience" with what gender equality in the music industry looks like. Putting the onus on female artists to "step up" is essentially blaming the victim--and it's ironic that the person acting as a barrier to female representation says that he wants to create a welcome mat. Yikes.

    There were definitely some bright spots: several people sported white roses in solidarity of #MeToo and supporting women in the industry, and Janelle Monae gave a rousing speech about gender equality right before Kesha's impassioned performance of "Pray", surrounded by other female icons like Cindy Lauper and Camila Cabello, a tribute to the sexual abuse she has had to endure from her producer Dr. Luke and the painful legal battle she is still entrenched in to retain the rights to her music. Not that the context of this song or its intent as a ballad written for female empowerment was explained. Instead, we got some cute shots of host James Corden six minutes into the show edging behind the microphone to hide his own white rose and finally introduce the next artist. Incredible.

    So the music industry may not be the next feminist battleground, certainly not today and definitely not at a heavily conservative event like the Grammys, where the four women nominated for Best Solo Pop Performance lost to Ed Sheeran. Even they probably had better facial hair than him. But despite what feels like a series of letdowns with this Grammy Awards Ceremony, the small steps make a difference. Hopefully next year people like Neil Portnow will see what people like Beyoncé have known all along: Girls Run the World.

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