Times chang­ing

Women, youth seek rock awards at Gram­mys

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE - BY MES­FIN FEKADU

For years, men - and legacy acts - have dom­i­nated in the rock cat­e­gory at the Grammy Awards, leav­ing lit­tle room for fe­male stars who rock as loud and hard as the guys and young bands hop­ing to break­through on the mu­sic scene.

But at this year’s Gram­mys, there is a shift with women and bud­ding acts dom­i­nat­ing in the rock field, thanks to the Brit­tany Howard-led Alabama Shakes and Florence Welch of Florence + the Ma­chine - with four nom­i­na­tions each - to promis­ing per­form­ers such as James Bay and Highly Sus­pect, both up for best rock al­bum and rock song.

Elle King, the 26-year-old care­free, raspy-voiced new­comer, earned nom­i­na­tions for best rock song and rock per­for­mance for the plat­inum sin­gle “Ex’s and Oh’s,” which topped the Bill­board rock and al­ter­na­tive charts last year.

“There’s been space for peo­ple to make dif­fer­ent mu­sic that’s not so pop-driven ... that’s why we went with al­ter­na­tive be­cause I didn’t think I was an­other Katy Perry of this world,” King said in an in­ter­view. “But to be in the rock cat­e­gory at the Gram­mys, for me and my heart, it’s like, ‘(Ex­ple­tive) yes, that is so rad!’ That made me ex­tremely happy.”

Alabama Shakes’ nom­i­na­tions in­clude al­bum of the year and best al­ter­na­tive mu­sic al­bum for “Sound & Color” as well as rock per­for­mance and rock song for “Don’t Wanna Fight.” Florence + the Ma­chine are also up for the lat­ter two rock hon­ours with the sin­gle “What Kind of Man,” along with best pop vo­cal al­bum for “How Big, How Blue, How Beau­ti­ful” and pop duo/group per­for­mance for “Ship to Wreck.”

The Gram­mys, which are be­ing held at the Sta­ples Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les on Feb. 15, could bring the of­ten-praised Howard, 27, and Welch, 29, their first gramo­phones af­ter earn­ing mul­ti­ple nom­i­na­tions in the past.

“I feel like women have al­ways writ­ten in­cred­i­ble songs, but I feel like right now what’s so rad is we’re all tak­ing back the con­ver­sa­tion and sup­port­ing each other and hold­ing each other up,” said Hay­ley Wil­liams, the 27year-old front­woman of Paramore. “We’re tak­ing no­tice of each other ear­lier on in each other’s ca­reers.”

Paramore won its first Grammy last year for best rock song with “Ain’t It Fun,” the an­themic groove that gave the band its first Top 10 hit on the Bill­board Hot 100 chart. A year be­fore that, Imag­ine Dragons took home best rock per­for­mance for their break­through track, “Ra­dioac­tive”; Halestorm, with front­woman Lzzy Hale, won best hard rock/metal per­for­mance in 2013.

Also in re­cent years, sea­soned acts like Foo Fight­ers, Black Keys, Jack White and Beck have won rock Gram­mys, though the awards have usu­ally been re­served for veter­ans in the vein of U2, Neil Young and Bruce Spring­steen. And in the past women have had an even tougher road than the young acts: Be­fore Paramore’s win, Ala­nis Moris­sette was the last woman to win best rock song in 1999. It was the same year Sh­eryl Crow won best rock al­bum; a woman hasn’t won the hon­our since.

“I think it’s time that they’re back in the mix as far as the Gram­mys goes, in a larger way be­cause it’s un­de­ni­able that women rock,” said Bill Freimuth, the Record­ing Academy’s se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of awards.

This year, nom­i­nees for best rock per­for­mance in­clude four women, or fe­male-led acts, with King, Alabama Shakes, Florence + the Ma­chine and Wolf Alice, whose lead vo­cal­ist is 23-yearold El­lie Rowsell. The fifth nom­i­nee is the Foo Fight­ers.

The best rock song nom­i­nees are made up ex­clu­sively of women and new acts with King, Alabama Shakes, Florence + the Ma­chine, Bay - the ac­claimed 25year-old Bri­tish singer-gui­tarist - and Highly Sus­pect, the trio made up of 30-year-old twins Ryan and Rich Meyer and Johnny Stevens, 29.

It’s a sea change from 2014, when nom­i­nees for best rock al­bum in­cluded David Bowie, Black Sab­bath, Queens of the Stone Age, Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Kings of Leon and win­ners Led Zep­pelin. Best rock song nom­i­nees that year in­cluded The Rolling Stones, Black Sab­bath, Paul McCart­ney.

“I think that some of the legacy artists, if you look at their cat­a­logue of work, some of the things that may have been in con­tention for this year, is it their best work or is it the name? I think we’re get­ting away from that and look­ing at what is the best work,” said Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer Jac­quire King, who has worked with Bay, Kings of Leon and Tom Waits. “I think that’s what the Gram­mys have needed to fo­cus on and this year there’s a lot of proof that the fo­cus is get­ting sharper. I love what th­ese cat­e­gories rep­re­sent for mu­sic.”

Wil­liams, who said Paramore is busy writ­ing its up­com­ing fifth al­bum, said she re­mem­bers how tough it was to be taken se­ri­ously as a teen mu­si­cian when the band re­leased its de­but al­bum a decade ago. And King, whose de­but was re­leased a year ago, says she’s slowly see­ing how some peo­ple view her as a young, fe­male rock singer.

AP PHOTO

In this June 12, 2015 file photo, Brit­tany Howard, lead singer of Alabama Shakes, per­forms at the Bon­na­roo Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val in Manch­ester, Tenn. Howard is nom­i­nated for sev­eral Grammy Awards in­clud­ing al­bum of the year, best rock per­for­mance, best rock song and best al­ter­na­tive mu­sic al­bum.

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