Shirley Manson on the Groundbreaking 1999 Grammys: 'Nonconformist Women Were Getting a Moment'
I remember that day. I walked past Madonna, and she grabbed my arm. I turned around, and she went, “I think you’re amazing.” I nearly fell on top of her in shock. Then I was ushered to my seat next to Lauryn Hill, and of course, I’m trembling at her genius. She sat there very kind of regally, and she had a small Bible in her lap. I was like, “Wow, I’m not fucking with that!” Just sort of stayed in my own mad fear. I remember meeting Bono -- there’s a photograph of us together, and I literally look like I’m in the midst of an orgasm. [Laughs.]
To be in that category with those huge hitters seemed really ludicrous to us. [Manson was nominated with her band, Garbage.] When you come from outsider spaces and infiltrate the mainstream, there’s a gleefulness to that. Like, “Wow, did we just come in on the perfect Trojan horse?” From the mid-’90s onward, I had a sense that progressive-thinking, nonconformist women, for the first time ever, were getting a moment in the sun. In that moment, it really felt like this was a natural evolution, and that was a glorious thing. I remember thinking, “Wow, things really are changing.”
It never occurred to me that that progress would find itself blunted really suddenly. I felt rage [at Neil Portnow’s comment after the 2018 ceremony that women in music needed to “step up”], but I also felt grateful, in a funny way, that he revealed his colors so perfectly to the world -- so ignorant and unaware of his own white male privilege that he stepped into the fire without even knowing it. Women have to work harder than any of their male counterparts, and black women and women of color have to work even harder. This kind of misogyny, sexism and racism goes on all over the globe, and it has to stop.
I don’t mean to be rude, but the Grammys really are irrelevant to me. I do care, however, about female representation and opportunity in the industry. I love SZA, Kelsey Lu, Fuck U Pay Us and Mereba -- her song “Black Truck” is beautiful. I saw Natalia Lafourcade play in Mexico City recently, and she absolutely fucking blew me away.
Across the board, I would like to see more female-identified artists who are challenging the patriarchy and systems and culture -- not just the all-pleasing dancing and smiling white female pop star. Mostly, though, I’d like to see more [support for] black female-identifying artists and female-identifying artists of color. And start employing female engineers, producers and mixers! We have to change the way young women see opportunities in those fields. This is on all of us to make changes. It’s time.
As told to Jeanne Fury.