The Grammys are stepping up. At least when it comes to nominations.

After the 2018 Grammy ceremonies were widely criticized for presenting only one award to a woman during the 3½-hour telecast, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said women need to "step up." The reaction to his post-broadcast comment was swift and harsh, resulting in a special task force on diversity and inclusion to improve the Grammys process — and the outlook is encouraging.

At least there is an abundance of major nominations for women for 2019, which were announced Friday morning. For album of the year, five of the eight finalists are women. Six of the eight nominees for best new artist are women. And five of the eight candidates for record of the year feature women.

One of the changes for the 61st annual Grammys is the number of finalists has been expanded from five to eight in the four top categories — best new artist as well as album, record and song of the year.

Of course, having more nominees doesn't necessarily mean more women will win more prominent prizes. Presumably, however, viewers will see more female faces on TV during the ceremonies on Feb. 10.

Americana singer Brandi Carlile, a Twin Cities favorite, is vying for album ("By the Way, I Forgive You"), record and song of the year (both for "The Joke"). Lady Gaga, the pop star reborn as an actress in "A Star Is Born," is a finalist for top song and record (both for "Shallow"). Hip-hop sensation Cardi B is competing in album ("Invasion of Privacy") and record ("I Like It") while R&B newcomer H.E.R. is up for best album ("H.E.R.") and new artist. And country/pop star Maren Morris is recognized in the top song and record categories (for "The Middle"). Janelle Monae ("Dirty Computer") and Kacey Musgraves ("Golden Hour") are in the album of the year race, as well.

If there's one woman whose name is surprisingly missing from the top awards, it's Taylor Swift, a two-time album-of-the-year winner who has long been popular with Grammy voters. Her "Reputation" was the biggest selling album during the Grammy eligibility period (Sept. 30, 2017-Oct. 1, 2018) but it didn't make the cut for album of the year.

The finalists in the "Big Four" categories are selected by a blue-ribbon panel of industry experts; the nominees in the other 80 categories are chosen by members of the Recording Academy.

Once again, hip-hop earned recognition in the high-profile contests. Superstar Drake, whose "Scorpion" was one of the top-selling albums of 2018, is cited for album, record and song of the year. Innovative rapper Kendrick Lamar, who has enjoyed both critical and commercial success, is a candidate for record, song and album, for his work on the soundtrack to "Black Panther."

Rising rapper Post Malone scored nods for album ("Beerbongs & Bentleys") and record ("Rockstar"). Rapper/singer Childish Gambino's "This Is America" is acknowledged in both record and song categories. And don't forget about the aforementioned Cardi B.

The leading nominees overall are Lamar with eight and Drake with seven. Carlile, with six, has the most of any woman, followed by Cardi B, H.E.R., Morris and Gaga with five each.

Expanding the best new artist list to eight may have diluted things. Pop/soul star Dua Lipa, pop/country singer Bebe Rexha and Nashville's Luke Combs have made splashes on the charts and radio, and rockers Greta Van Fleet, rising R&B singer H.E.R. and throwback country singer Margo Price have received much attention and considerable airplay. But England's Jorja Smith and Chloe x Halle, the siblings who are on TV's "Grown-ish," are more under-the-radar, opening-act figures.

As for nominees with Minnesota connections: Orrin Evans, the new pianist in the Minneapolis-launched the Bad Plus, is vying for best large jazz ensemble album for "Presence" with his other group, Captain Black; "Live from Here" host Chris Thile's Punch Brothers are up for best folk album for "All Ashore,"; and Bob Dylan's "Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 1979-81" is competing for best album notes.

In classical music, Minnesota-born violinist Ariana Kim earned a best chamber music/small ensemble performance nomination with her Aizuri Quartet for "Blueprinting"; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra artistic partner Jonathan Cohen picked up a nod with his Quebec-based Les Violons Du Roy ensemble for "Arc," nominated for best classical solo vocal album; and Santa Fe Opera Orchestra landed four nominations for "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs," conducted by former Minnesota Opera music director Michael Christie.

For a complete list of nominees, go to