The breadth and depth of female dominance at the Grammys is heartening

<span>Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker of three-time winners Boygenius.</span><span>Photograph: David Swanson/Reuters</span>
Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker of three-time winners Boygenius.Photograph: David Swanson/Reuters

In a sense, the 2023 Grammys simply told audiences what they already knew. There wasn’t much in the way of surprises, unless you count Killer Mike’s evening: even before he departed the arena in handcuffs following an alleged battery incident, he had won three awards, no mean feat for a politically driven rapper knocking on 50 years old. André 3000, guest artist on Killer Mike’s best rap performance-winning track Scientists & Engineers, recently fretted: “I’m 48 years old. Not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does. What do you talk about – I gotta go get a colonoscopy?” Killer Mike’s success, with another in a string of deeply felt and socially conscious albums, is its own rebuttal – as is Victoria Monét becoming the oldest winner of best new artist at 34.

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But elsewhere, the winners were pretty much as you might have expected. Women clearly dominated the awards: only one male artist, Jon Batiste, was nominated in the top three categories; the most striking performances on the night came from SZA, Joni Mitchell and Billie Eilish, the latter taking home her ninth Grammy at the age of 22; outside of the winners the biggest news stories were the unexpected appearances of Céline Dion, handing out the album of the year award and Tracy Chapman, who last released an album in 2008 and last performed in public nine years ago, duetting with Luke Combs.

All of this made for a marked difference from a few years ago. As recently as 2018 – when almost no women won in the top categories – the Recording Academy’s then chairman Neil Portnow made a terrible and revealing choice of words when, while lamenting the “brick walls” faced by women, shifted the blame to the female artists themselves, saying they needed “to step up” and make themselves known.

But then, this year’s winners hardly smacked of special pleading. Taylor Swift’s commercial domination of 2023 was almost total – as well as the Eras tour, she was streamed 26bn times on Spotify last year – while Miley Cyrus’s Flowers, winner of song of the year, was 2023’s biggest song. It is notable that a Black woman hasn’t won album of the year this century – Jay-Z gently chided the Academy on stage for not doing enough to credit Black artists, including his wife – and SZA arguably deserved it for the triumphantly eclectic album US No 1 album SOS, but she still went home with three awards.

The striking thing about the awards wasn’t that Taylor Swift or SZA or Billie Eilish won – frankly, it would have been weird if they didn’t – but the sheer breadth of female artists’ domination. Paramore and Boygenius won in the traditionally male-dominated rock and alternative categories; Wet Leg unexpectedly scooped remix of the year, another traditionally male-dominated category, for their take on Depeche Mode’s Wagging Tongue. Women triumphed in the fields of country (Lainey Wilson), musica urbana (Karol G), R&B (Coco Jones), African music (22-year-old South African Tyla) and pop-dance (Kylie Minogue), although if you were looking for a British success story, you could alight on the dance/electronic categories, where Fred Again won two awards.

Without wishing to detract anything from his own undoubted abilities and evident hitmaking touch, you could even argue that Jack Antonoff’s win for best producer was effectively female powered, given that virtually all his recent high-profile clients are women – Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Clairo, Lorde, Olivia Rodrigo, St Vincent, Florence + the Machine – and that Swift and Del Rey co-produced their nominated work with him this year. Under the circumstances, you can’t really blame Phoebe Bridgers of Boygenius for bringing up Neil Portnow’s line about female artists failing to “step up”, with a hair-raising lack of diplomacy: “To him I’d like to say – I know you’re not dead yet, but when you are, I hope you rot in piss.”