Women In Grammy Combat

Paul Grein
Stop The Presses!

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta’s decision to allow women in combat has stirred much discussion and debate. Do women have the physical strength to serve on the front lines? Is this a matter of equality and fairness or an example of political correctness? While that discussion continues, there’s no debate that women can more than hold their own when competing with men in vocal competitions. We found that out last year when the Recording Academy combined previously separate male and female vocal competitions in pop, country and R&B. Last year, just one male artist earned a nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance. (It was Bruno Mars for a song with, ironically, a militaristic title, “Grenade.”) This year, not one male artist earned a nod. Ouch.

This year’s finalists for Best Pop Solo Performance are Adele’s live recording of “Set Fire To The Rain,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” and Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been.” Among the recordings by male solo artists that failed to make the cut: Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself),” Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up,” Usher’s “Scream” and—yes, novelty hits qualify—PSY’s “Gangnam Style.”

To a large extent, this reflects female dominance in pop music. Adele, Perry and Rihanna, among others, have blown away the (male) competition on the charts in recent years.

The situation is more mixed in the country and R&B fields. Last year, females earned more nominations than males did in the combined finals in these two genres. This year, males did.

For Best Country Solo Performance, females took three of the five spots last year, while this year, females took just one of the six spots. Last year, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride competed alongside Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. (Swift won for “Mean.”) This year, Underwood is the only female to make the make the finals (for “Blown Away”). She’s competing with Shelton’s “Over,” Dierks Bentley’s “Home,” Eric Church’s “Springsteen,” Ronnie Dunn’s “Cost Of Livin’” and Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted.”

Things are a little different in R&B, where males and females now compete not only with each other, but also with groups, duos and collaborations. But we can see how many male and female solo artists made the cut. Last year, three female solo artists (Corinne Bailey Rae, Marsha Ambrosius and Ledisi) were nominated for Best R&B Performance. Just one male solo artist (Charlie Wilson) made the cut. The fifth nominee was a collaboration by Kelly Price & Stokley. (Bailey Rae won for “Is This Love”).

This year, just female solo artist was nominated for Best R&B Performance: Estelle, for “Thank You.” Three male solo artists were nominated: Miguel for “Adorn,” Usher for “Climax” and Luke James for “I Want You.” Once again, the fifth nominee is a collaboration—“Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.)” by Robert Glasper Experiment featuring Ledisi.

Post Script: In breaking it down this way, we can also see that the Recording Academy’s decision to combine male and female competitions has cost some performers Grammys. If the academy still had a category for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Bruno Mars would have won last year for “Grenade.” It would have been his second consecutive win in that category: He won for 2010’s “Just The Way You Are.” (Mars would have been the first artist to win back-to-back awards in this category since Sting, who won for 1999 and 2000.)

If the academy still had a category for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” would be the winner this year. It would be her fourth win in that category. She previously won for 2006’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” 2007’s “Before He Cheats” and 2008’s “Last Name.” (A fourth win would have put her in a tie with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Emmylou Harris for the most wins in the history of the category.)

If the academy still had a Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category, R&B veteran Charlie Wilson would have won last year. It would have been his first Grammy, either with the Gap Band or on his own. If the academy still had a Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category, Estelle would be the winner this year. It would have been her second Grammy. She took Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “American Boy,” her irresistable 2008 collabo with Kanye West.

This, of course, is a case of coulda-woulda-shoulda, as the male and female categories were combined last year, for better or worse.

Do you think the Academy was right to combine them? Or would you prefer to see separate male and female categories in pop, country and R&B? Share your thoughts below.