How six women-led acts made history and took over a dude-dominated genre category.
In its 10 years of existence, the Grammys' best rock performance category has included 46 nominees — only 10 of which have been women, and only one of which, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, won. But at this year’s Grammy ceremony, that pattern will finally change: Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Grace Potter, Fiona Apple, Big Thief (fronted by singer Adrianne Lenker) and a solo Howard make up the category’s first ballot of only women or female-led acts. Four of them also appear in the best rock song category, where Tame Impala is the lone male-fronted act nominated.
That evolution follows another promising change at the Recording Academy itself: In November, it welcomed a new class of 1,345 voting members, 40% of whom are women, after an effort to expand and diversify. And in a year when the pandemic rendered the usual industry gatekeepers less all-powerful, the nominees figured out how to put themselves in front of as many of those voters as possible, and on their own terms.
Bridgers planned to spend last spring opening for The 1975 on an arena tour. When it was canceled, she turned herself into a headliner, taking “advantage of the fact that she wasn’t one person on a huge stage and instead had a blank slate,” says Robby Morris, creative director at Bridgers’ label, Secretly Group. She played an NPR Tiny Desk concert in a digitally rendered Oval Office for an audience of over 1 million; three months later, on The Late Late Show With James Corden, she performed the now Grammy-nominated “Kyoto” from her bed, green-screened into Carnegie Hall.