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New study shows some gains for women in music, but men still dominate pop charts

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Women in the music business of 2020 are, by some measures, better represented on the sales charts and at the impending Grammy Awards, according to an updated, broad-based study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Few, however, are likely to frame the latest statistics as good news in light of how overwhelmingly female artists remain at a disadvantage on the pop sales charts and on Grammy night, which arrives again Sunday.

The third edition of the study, spearheaded by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder Stacy L. Smith, was announced Tuesday, revealing that for 2020, the percentage of female nominees in five of the highest-profile Grammy categories has hit an eight-year high, accounting for nearly 21% of all nominations in those fields.

That's a striking increase from the second edition of the study published just two years ago. That survey found that barely more than 9% of those nominations went to women. Yet the latest number still demonstrates that four out of five Grammy nominees in those categories -- record, album, song, new artist and non-classical producer -- are male.

"If you look across all the data for performers, songwriters, producers and Grammys, you see an uptick," Smith told The Times on Monday. "It's small, and that's the problem. But typically, with our work in film and television, you don't see indicators across multiple areas move in the same direction like this. Within two short years, we're starting to see some changes."

The Grammy nomination results are also largely in sync with what the study found in examining gender breakdown of the 100 top songs each year from 2012 through 2019: 22.5% were by female artists, 77.5% by males, a 3.6-to-1 imbalance.

 

When the 2018 edition of the study came out just ahead of the 60th Grammy Awards, it provided a backdrop for what turned into a #GrammysSoMale protest campaign on social media after male winners dramatically outnumbered females, especially in the prime-time TV portion of the ceremony. Just one solo female musician -- new artist winner Alessia Cara -- was presented with a Grammy on camera that year.

It also fueled the controversy over the Recording Academy's then-President and Chief Executive Neil Portnow's comment backstage after the awards that it was time for women to "step up" to achieve parity with men. It likewise figured prominently in the recently concluded work of an 18-person task force charged with examining gender and racial biases in the music business and within the Recording Academy itself.

One member of that task force was pop star Selena Gomez.

"Almost a year ago, I joined onto the initiative from the Recording Academy's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to create opportunities for females in the music industry," Gomez, 27, said in the same statement. "While recording my new album ("Rare"), I wanted to ensure there were women involved in the creative process. I feel proud that women were essential collaborators on every song whether as a songwriter, producer, or engineer. It's a start, but there is much work to be done to amplify women's voices in our business."

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