This past Tuesday, the nominations for the 2016 Juno Awards were revealed. The awards often referred to as Canada’s Grammys are led this year by unsurprising picks: The Weeknd with six nominations, and both Justin Bieber and Drake with five each. It wasn’t lost on everyone the lack of women present in the main categories.
Eclectic musician Grimes called out the award committee on Twitter over the lack of women in some of the leading categories as well as several technical categories, saying “if women were equally awarded for technical work they would feel inclined to participate more,” adding “no female noms for album, artist, engineer or producer of the year etc.”
A chart posted by playyourgender.com on tumblr revealed some figures on this year’s nominations. Of the 210 nominees across 41 categories, just 1/3 include at least one woman. Eight categories have no female nominees at all, while every category has male nominees.
On the surface, it’s troubling. With long overdue discussion on equality issues at the forefront, it’s cause for disbelief that in 2016, half of what actually gets discussed in regards to women’s rights is still an thing but here we are, 2016, and our Prime Minister is praised for appointing a cabinet of half women for the first time ever.
But looking underneath, it’s not quite so simple as saying the Junos themselves are at fault, even when we take into account the massive snub toward Carly Rae Jepsen, an artist who should rightfully account for at least 25% of the total nominations this year point blank, but I digress.
If the Juno Awards Wikipedia page is to be trusted, the Juno Committee boasts a membership consisting of a diverse voting group made up of men and women from both official languages across all genres of music, and no one may judge the same category in consecutive years. The other side of the coin, the panel is confidential.
And then it should be considered that some of the Juno categories are based on sales, including two of the categories in question, Artist and Album of the Year. This means whoever the nominees are is completely out of the hands of the committee and a direct result of the music buying public.
(To put it another way, each year these categories are filled with Canadian artists who also happened to find success in America during that year. I’ve been saying for years that this is a terrible way to hand out an award as respectable as the Junos try to make itself out to be. Canada’s Grammy? No. Canada’s American Music Award.)
To be fair, the big Canadian names in popular music this year were the big three: Justin, Drake and The Weeknd. Shawn Mendes also had a great year as did Alessia Cara with her big hit Here. Quite frankly, to find out the Single of the Year didn’t consist exclusively of these five artists came as a surprise to me. Instead, it was made up of four of those five with Shawn Mendes swapped for the pleasantly surprising Ria Mae with Clothes Off.
It might be worth pointing out that historically, the Junos have given female artists plenty of attention, on the basis that some of Canada’s biggest musical exports over the years have been women.
Since 2002, when Artist of the Year was combined from Best Male and Best Female Artist, women have won seven times and men seven times. Given that this year’s nominations are all men, the tie will be broken in 2016.
In the same amount of time, albums by women have won five times out of 14 years. A little less impressive and only barely on par with the same timeframe for the Grammys’ Album of the Year category, which went to all-female artists for four years with an additional year awarded to Alison Krauss with Robert Plant.
Two of the most celebrated Juno Award winners are women. Anne Murray has 23 awards from 52 career nominations and Celine Dion has won 20 times out of 70 nominations. Bryan Adams is in third with 18 (out of 58), Alanis Morissette is next with 13 (from 23), and Shania Twain is in a tie with a slew of other acts to have 12 awards (with 30 nominations total).
Does any of this even matter? Not really. To say the Junos’ process of awarding Canadian musicians is reliable or credible even would be silly, but placing blame on them for unfairly representing women in music isn’t fully accurate either. It doesn’t provide the full story because the Junos, like the Oscars, and the Grammys, and radio, and music sales, are a reflection of society. The issue goes far beyond them.
Women still lack the perceived credibility in music that men have and as long as self-proclaimed experts value the old over the new, women will have their work cut out, if publications like Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Greatest Artists of all time list is any indication, with only eight female artists on it.
Metacritic, a website that compiles reviews by respected critics from reputable online review sites and well-known newspapers and magazines, highlights this all too well. Last year, albums by women accounted for only 16 of the top 50 top reviewed albums, and if you look at the all-time list, women have only six of the top 50.
Like the Junos, Metacritic should be taken with a grain of salt, but the point still stands. Even among so-called music experts, women apparently pale in comparison to men.
As someone whose taste in music primarily focuses on female artists, this was something that was always apparent to me. All those times someone brought to my attention the abundance of female artists in mixes or playlists I’ve made, commented on my attendance of concerts by female singers, or perused my CD collection and noted all the ‘girl singers.’ Of course it’s all true. When asked who my favourite artist is, I have about 20 or so go-to artists to answer with, past and present, and most of them are women: Alanis Morissette, Amy Macdonald, Amy Winehouse, Blue October, Brandi Carlile, Chantal Kreviazuk, David Usher, Dixie Chicks, Dragonette, Ed Sheeran, Imogen Heap, Jason Mraz, Kathleen Edwards, KT Tunstall, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Sarah Slean, Sarah Harmer, Sheryl Crow, Sondre Lerche, Tegan & Sara.
While studying audio engineering in college, I was given a project that required I do a presentation on the producer who had the greatest impact on how I interacted with and viewed music. Of my class of 25 (all guys), I was the only one to choose a woman (Imogen Heap – she changed how I think about music production).
Obviously, I like my taste in music, but the impression I’ve gotten over the years is that liking musicians who are women is some sort of handicap of my musical taste, as if my knowledge of music is inferior because the kind I love isn’t masculine enough — and I won’t even get into the mentality of rock > pop = because.
Now I’m aware that when I listen to female-heavy playlists in a public setting, anyone in the vicinity has probably noticed the estrogen in the air, yet I never wonder whether my choice in music is questioned when it’s a man’s voice singing on one song after another. An unfortunate double standard that I’m shamefully guilty of.
As frustrating as it is to be questioned about my musical choices, I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be these musicians — to still be considered a niche in music, an exception rather than a norm — even though it’s 2016.
Music purists who lean toward longstanding classics of music will always cite The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and so on, rarely voluntarily mentioning women among them until someone else provides a gentle nudge toward Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse or Bonnie Raitt. It is only then you might get a response: “yeah, they’re awesome too,” — as if they need confirmation that it’s okay to admit it.
Try it. Ask someone whose musical knowledge you respect or admire (or someone who thinks their own musical knowledge is admired) to name their favourite artists, albums or concerts and see who they respond with. If their answer isn’t comprised overwhelmingly of male artists, I will eat the buttons on this keyboard.
So, Grimes isn’t wrong with her observation. It’s the direction of her rightful frustration that is misplaced, or at least incomplete. Calling out the Junos for ignoring women is like directing anger at a bandaid for failing to stop a bloody nose. The Junos could be 50/50 men:women this year, but your nose is going to keep bleeding.
We need to stop avoiding the idea that women can be a legit response to any music-related question. There are too many incredible musicians, men and women, to simply dismiss the achievements and abilities of a significant proportion of them for the sake of archaically perceived-credibility from music snobs who choose to stay stuck in the past. So let me ask: who are your favourite artists?