Why Justin Bieber Lost the Grammy: He's Not a Cute Young Woman

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Associated Press/Chris Pizzello

The morning shows are still nattering on about what is alleged to have been the big scandal coming out of the Grammy Awards Sunday night: tweener singing sensation Justin Bieber's loss in the best new artist category.

The winner, in what is incessantly called an upset, was Esperanza Spalding, a young jazz bassist and singer. She's not a pop star, but isn't obscure, either-among other things she has been a featured performer at the White House and at the 2009 Nobel Prize ceremony.

Spalding's win has supposedly sent some Bieber fans into a frenzy, and the cable shows have agreeably turned it into an ongoing story.

What no one's saying is that the opposite is actually true. A win by Bieber would truly have been the upset.

Why? Because, to put it bluntly, the Grammys are a lecherous old bastard. If there's a cute gal in the mix, you can bet your Kim Carnes "Bette Davis Eyes" picture disc that she's going home with the trophy.

And nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the best new artist race each year. This is one of the big four Grammys. The others are album of the year, record (i.e., single track) of the year, and song of the year—which is the songwriting award.

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The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gives so many awards out (about 110) that lesser wins are the equivalent of Cracker Jack prizes—just about everybody gets one.

But in the big categories, the Grammys love themselves a comely young lass. The evidence?

Consider: In the last 41 years, a female solo artist has won Best New Artist 24 times, the vast majority of them attractive and pliable young stars well-tutored in industry games. Several more were bands fronted by a woman singer.

Exactly four were solo male artists.

Four of the last five best new artist Grammys went to a woman. Fourteen of the last 18 went to a woman, counting the band Evanescence, fronted by Amy Lee.

When it comes to the ladies, the Grammies are refreshingly indiscriminate. They recognize future major pop stars like Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera. They recognize flashes in the pan: Debby Boone, Paula Cole. They recognize talent—Carly Simon, Tracey Chapman, Rickie Lee Jones. One in a while, they even recognize an actual extraordinary artist, from the sturdy (Bette Midler) to the frail (Amy Winehouse).

But let's face it, a lot are cookie cutters, middling talents, industry tools: Carrie Underwood, LeAnn Rimes, Jody Watley, Toni Braxton, Sheryl Crow, and on and on.

The Winehouse win was extremely unusual, though, in that NARAS voters are a little scared of tough and uncompromising women. You'll note that there aren't too many timeless female stars there. No Diana Ross or Ronnie Spector; no Patti Smith or Chrissie Hyde. No Madonna (!; she wasn't even nominated), and no Liz Phair, Courtney Love, or PJ Harvey.

Presented by

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon.com and National Public Radio.

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