Janelle Monae remembers being frustrated at last year’s Grammy Awards, where male acts dominated in nominations and the only woman competing for the night’s top award, Lorde, didn’t get a chance to perform onstage.
But this year, Monae is looking forward to the show, where women are now leading in nominations for big categories like album of the year and best new artist.
“This is going to be a special Grammys. As much as it is about me, it’s not just about me. Just knowing that so many women are nominated this year, looking back from last year to this year when I was on the stage at the Grammys, you could see that I was frustrated about the opportunities and about our visibility as women,” said Monae, who gave powerful speech last year ahead of Kesha’s emotional and striking performance celebrating sisterhood and women’s rights.
“Yes, we have so much more work to do, but this is a moment to be celebrated. This is a moment for women to love on each other and let each other know,” she added.
Monae’s groundbreaking album, “Dirty Computer,” is one of five albums by women nominated for the top prize at Sunday’s show, airing live at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy,” Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” Brandi Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You” and H.E.R.’s self-titled album are also in contention.
Carlile is the most nominated woman with six nominations, including bids for song and record of the year with “The Joke.” Women also have a strong presence in those top categories, including Lady Gaga, SZA, Maren Morris and Ella Mai.
Six of the best new artist nominees are women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.
“What I plan to do is let every woman who is nominated, who is here this weekend, know that from the red carpet to the stage, win or lose, I have your back. I see you,” Monae said. “This is just the beginning of moving to a more inclusive future.”
This year’s nominees mark a departure from the 2018 Grammys, where Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow was criticized when he said women need to “step up” when asked about the lack of women in the top categories. He later acknowledged that it was a “poor choice of words,” and it forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.
The lead up to this year’s Grammys hasn’t been completely smooth though. This week Ariana Grande blasted Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and accused him of lying about why she was no longer performing at the show.
Ehrlich told the AP that Grande “felt it was too late for her to pull something together.” She responded on Twitter and said she “can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken.”
“It was when my creativity & self expression was stifled by you, that i decided not to attend. i hope the show is exactly what you want it to be and more,” she continued.
Carlile told the AP she stands “behind Ariana Grande’s decision to stand up for herself and her art.”
“And I feel like it’s a time in this country when women need to support each other and their decisions. I support her and I support her decision,” she added.
Grande is nominated for two awards and could miss the chance of giving a speech onstage if she wins. Other big stars also won’t be in attendance, including Kendrick Lamar, the top nominee with eight, and Drake, nominated for seven awards. Taylor Swift, who was snubbed and one scored one nomination, also won’t be at the show.
Drama has also surrounded the Grammys around its Motown Records tribute: Some people complained when a promo aired on CBS showing Jennifer Lopez as the act set to honour the legendary record label, which launched the careers of Jackson 5, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more. Some complained that a black artist should be involved in the tribute, while others said stronger vocalists should perform over Lopez. A representative for the Grammys didn’t return an email seeking clarification about the tribute.
Others set to perform Sunday include Cardi B, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diana Ross, J Balvin, Camila Cabello, Dan + Shay, H.E.R., Little Big Town, Post Malone and Chloe x Halle. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day will honour the late Aretha Franklin with a performance.
Musgraves, also nominated for best country album, song and performance, said she’s been trying to relax this week ahead of the show.
“I’ve been able to find zen moments leading up to all this. I am just grateful, I think. And I am not hung up on what happens or doesn’t happen,” she said. “Just the fact that this album has connected in such a way beyond my wildest dreams is just really cool.”
Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press