The Grammy Awards proudly positioned 2019 as the Year of the Woman, but in the end, after more than 140 trophies were handed out, did parity pan out? In terms of the final female count on stage, it was no contest. Between the opening surprise of Michelle Obama, Kacey Musgraves (who performed twice), Janelle Monae, Camila Cabello, and the all-star tribute to Dolly Parton, which featured Miley Cyrus, Maren Morris, and Little Big Town, among others, the first hour of the broadcast was a celebration of the female voice, if ever there was one. The proof was in Monae’s “Pynk” appeal: “Let the vagina have a monologue.”
In fact, when all was said and sung (there were 17 performances in three-plus hours), only four male acts — Post Malone with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dan and Shay, Shawn Mendes, and Smokey Robinson — performed during the telecast. At 23% of the participating artists, that put the men nearer to the statistic most working women face, but they still way outnumber the number of female professionals working in the industry, particularly on the creative side.
Did the Recording Academy overcompensate for its tone-deaf declaration last year — that women need to “step up” in order to find more visibility at events like the Grammys? If the organization did, no one is complaining. More of a head-scratcher are some of the song choices made by performers, in collaboration with the show’s producers.
Ariana Grande was the most talked-about artist heading in to the show and that was because she wasn’t there. The kerfuffle with producers was over what songs she was being pressured to perform — her smash single “7 Rings” was ruled out initially — yet that didn’t seem to be an issue with Cardi B, who played her latest “Money,” nor was it with Travis Scott, who steered clear of “Sicko Mode” despite the surprise presence of Drake in the house.
And was there justice in a win for Drake for best rap song? Or Musgraves for best country album? Or H.E.R. for best R&B album? No doubt. Drake is about as consistent a success story as any we’ve seen in modern music history, and Musgraves, neglected by country radio, has been embraced by people all over the world who likely wouldn’t call themselves country fans. And H.E.R. takes vocal and musical innovation to new heights.
Similarly, it seemed the deserving won during the pre-telecast, which was held before the main event across the street from Staples Center at the Microsoft Theater. There, Brandi Carlile cleaned up with three back-to-back wins, for best American roots performance and song (for “The Joke”), as well as best Americana album for “By the Way, I Forgive You.” In addition, Tori Kelly took home best gospel album, Lauren Daigle won for contemporary Christian music album, and Musgraves took home best country solo performance. The admirable big band album “American Dreamers (Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom),” which featured an ensemble of DACA recipients, picked up all three of the awards it was nominated for.
But trophies aside, the main event was the live music, chief among them show-stopping numbers by Carlile (“The Joke”), Lady Gaga (“Shallow”), and H.E.R. (“Hard Place”). Indeed, the girls’ performances featured colorful, elaborate productions with dancers and sets and energy. The guys, not so much.