After a year of introspection—panels and listening forums on music-industry inequity, diversity-increasing membership drives spearheaded by the Recording Academy’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion—there is widespread hope that the winners’ circle at this year’s Grammy Awards will be more reflective of the rich tapestry of voices that make up contemporary popular music. The 2019 show’s shortlists appear to be the result of successful activism, as the Recording Academy has implemented broader cultural mandates for inclusion. The “Big Four” General Field categories—Album, Song, and Record of the Year, and Best New Artist—are full of women and artists of color from a wide array of genres. All told, half of the Record of the Year and Song of the Year nominees are black, and five of the eight nominees for the headliner Album of the Year category are black as well. Women-led acts account for five of the eight nominations in each category for Song, Record, and Album of the Year, and for six of the eight noms in Best New Artist.
But on closer examination of the black musicians, it becomes clear that their odds of winning may still be very long. This group, historically, is among the most nominated in any given year, though General Field wins are few and far between. And the handful of black artists who have taken home General Field trophies often fit into a specific mold: They are perceived as individual auteurs, creators whose work stands alone, outside the broader black mainstream. For black musicians to hoist a golden gramophone in one of these four categories, the Academy’s voters essentially have to be convinced that the work of these artists is excellent because of its singularity.