How women have, finally, broken into the Grammy’s rock categories: a brief history

2020, the year The Recording Academy has been partially dragged into the 21st Century, kicking and screaming.

They’ve recognised some people who would’ve previously been ignored but, as a sacrifice, they also made some poor choices. I’m not going to spend this article complaining about what was wrong or right, or why The Weeknd was robbed, but instead focussing on something groundbreaking and important:

The Grammys are less of a sausage fest. (Woo!)

Yes, it might be hard to notice initially, however, if we dig into the history of the Grammys we can see how important this year’s nominations are.

The “Best Metal Performance” category

In 1989 the “Best Metal Performance” and “Best Rock Performance” were a joint category as “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance”, but in 1990 “Best Metal Performance” broke off to become its own category. Then in 2012-2013 this category didn’t technically exist, meaning in total there have been 29 Grammys awarded for this category between 1989 and 2020.

To get more specific, the 5 top winning bands for this category; Metallica (6 wins), Tool (3), Black Sabbath (2), Nine Inch Nails (2) and Slayer (2) have won over 50% of the awards given in this category. Metallica alone have won 21% of all “Best Metal Performance” Grammy awards, which is absurd (to me anyway).

Now, focusing specifically on women- out of the bands that have been nominated for the “Best Metal Performance” award there are six women in the history of the nominations. Two of these women are featuring for the first time in this year’s nominations and over half have been featured for the first time since 2018. Three out of the five acts nominated for the award this year include one woman.

Here is the list of every woman that has been part of a band or has been nominated for “Best Metal Performance”:

  • Sean Yseult in White Zombie
  • Ruyter Suys and Bonnie Buitrago in Nashville Pussy
  • Reba Meyers of Code Orange
  • Maria Brink of In This Moment
  • Poppy 

This means that for the first time in history a solo female artist has been nominated for “Best Metal Performance” in the form of Poppy with her song BLOODMONEY. I cannot express how important it is that not only a solo female artist has a chance to win the award, but also that she has a distinctly feminine expression. 

This year could be a year that a woman receives a Grammy for “Best Metal Performance”, for the first time in history.

Best Hard Rock Performance

After the “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” category was split in 1989, we were left with “Best Hard Rock Performance” and “Best Metal Performance”. The “Best Hard Rock Performance” category lasted from 1990 until 2011, providing 22 awards. You would imagine “Best Hard Rock Performance” would be less hostile to women due to its commerciality, so let’s see what happened.

Out of every band that was nominated or won the award there were two women- Amy Lee from Evanescence (2004) and D’arcy Wretzky from The Smashing Pumpkins (1997 and 1998). Between those two bands, three awards were won, and they received 2 nominations which they lost. That’s it. That’s all the women.

In 2012 a new category was borne out of the “Best Hard Rock Performance” category- “Best Rock Performance”, which hypothetically should make it more commercially accessible and therefore easier to award women.

Best Rock Performance

The “Best Rock Performance” award, which began in 2012, has had one female recipient in the form of Alabama Shakes in 2016, and even though there have been more posthumous winners than women, the nominations throughout seem more balanced. Florence + The Machine, Elle King, Wolf Alice, Beyonce (!!), Halestorm, Karen O, Brittany Howard (from Alabama Shakes) and Bones UK have all been nominated.

However, in its tenth year, the 2021 nominations for Best Rock Performance have seen maybe their biggest shakeup yet, they are all women!

Fiona Apple, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Brittany Howard and Grace Potter are in the running for the 2021 “Best Rock Performance” award, which has never been seen before. 

That makes it guaranteed that it will be the second time in history a woman has won “Best Rock Performance” and the first time in history a category open to all genders is occupied by all predominantly female acts. (In case you haven’t processed it yet, that’s HUGE!!)

In summary, it seems like this is the year to be a woman in rock. People are finally getting recognised by the Grammys and the same few bands that are recycled on loop seem to be being phased out. 

Are we seeing a brighter future for women in music? It’s probably too early to measure fully. While this year certainly sees The Recording Academy take a step in a better direction, it is only one year. The real marker will be if the trend carries on in future years.*  

Either way, this year has already seen a record-breaking number of women nominated for the Grammys, with 47% of artists across all categories being women. There is the real potential of history to be made this year, so let’s see what happens…



*This article has not included the battles that POC and LGBT have had to face due to the difficult nature to track. However, it would be interesting to compare these numbers too.

Author avatar
Chloe Spinks

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