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For once, the country music patriarchy is riding shotgun.
Country may be renowned as a genre where the women do not always get a fair shake, but you would not guess that from how the nominations for the 2021 Grammys shook out. Female solo artists or bands with women as primary lead singers accounted for all five of the nominations in the best country album category. Moreover, female-fronted material was awarded four out of five slots in two other categories, best country song and best country solo performance. That 80-to-100% imbalance is, of course, pretty much the exact inverse of what a fan of the music will hear on the airwaves.
If the Grammys were making a statement, the Recording Academy wasn’t just making it in country. There was a similar readjusting of the scales happening in some of the rock categories. For best rock performance, all six nominees are women or have a female lead singer. Best rock song and best alternative album are also female-dominated, with women commanding three out of five slots in those two divisions.
Do these strong and sometimes all-consuming showings by women in two of the most male-dominated genres represent a case of activism by rock and country’s respective nominating committees? Maybe. But it could also be a case of a year in which female artists’ contributions were undeniable, even without a vested interest in undoing institutional sexism. At the very least, the separate committee that narrows down the nominees in the top four categories was on the same page, as artists like Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Brittany Howard and Ingrid Andress also landed nominations in the genre-agnostic divisions.
Andress, who was nominated for best new artist, is part of the field for best country album, too. Her “Lady Like” debut is up against Brandy Clark’s “Your Life Is a Record,” Miranda Lambert’s “Wildcard,” Little Big Town’s “Nightfall” and Ashley McBryde’s “Never Will,” representing an extremely competitive field with no clear front-runner.
For best country song, Andress’ No. 1 hit “More Hearts Than Mine” faces off against Maren Morris’ crossover smash “The Bones,” Lambert’s “Bluebird” and the Highwomen’s “Crowded Table,” four juggernauts all. Male artists get a surely-not-token nod with Old Dominion’s “Some People Do” landing the fifth slot.
Best country solo performance has Lambert and Clark again in the race, for the songs “Bluebird” and “Who You Thought I Was,” respectively. Mickey Guyton also picks up a nomination there for her racially charged anthem, “Black Like Me.” The other two slots go to Vince Gill’s “When My Amy Prays” and Eric Church’s “Put That in Your Country Song.”
Guyton, of course, is not just representing for women in country: With her nomination, she becomes the first Black, female solo artist ever to be nominated for a country Grammy… and the first Black woman artist nominated in the field at all since the Pointer Sisters improbably picked up two country Grammys with a crossover hit in the mid-1970s.