While there were numerous spectacular female performers showcased at this year’s Grammy Awards, the show was certainly not “the year of the woman” event many had hoped when it came to the awards themselves, with only one female winning an award in any of the major categories (that would be Canada’s own Alessia Cara, who captured the award for Best New Artist).
Addressing the scarcity of female winners at this year’s show, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow stepped in a huge pile of you-know-what with a remark that’s resulted in some major backlash.
“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” Portnow told reporters. “[They need] to step up, because I think they would be welcome.”
The likes of Katy Perry, Charli XCX and Pink were amongst those to take umbrage with his “step up” remark, with the latter heading to Twitter to issue a scathing response (albeit without actually addressing Portnow by name).
“Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ — women have been stepping up since the beginning of time,” Pink wrote. “Stepping up, and also stepping aside, women owned music this year. They’ve been killing it. And every year before this.
“When we celebrate and honour the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women step up every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it means to be fair.”
Katy Perry added:
While Charli XCX shared:
The trio weren’t the only female artists to use social media to take the Grammys telecast to task; Lorde, despite being a nominee for Album of the Year, was denied a solo performing slot on the show (she declined an invitation to take part in a Tom Petty tribute with other artists).
On Monday, she issued an all-caps tweet challenging anyone “debating whether or not I can murder a stage” to come see her on tour.
Following the backlash, on Thursday Portnow issued a statement in which he regretted his “poor choice of words” but pledged to launch a “task force” that will hopefully eradicate “the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement” in the music business.
“After hearing from many friends and colleagues, I understand the hurt that my poor choice of words following last Sunday’s GRAMMY telecast has caused. I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right,” said Portnow in his statement.
“The Recording Academy is establishing an independent task force to review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community. We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed,” the statement continued.
“I appreciate that the issue of gender bias needs to be addressed in our industry, and share in the urgency to attack it head-on,” Portnow concluded. “We as an organization, and I as its leader, pledge our commitment to doing that. We will share more information about the steps we are taking in the coming weeks.”
Portnow’s statement, however, may be too little too late, as Variety is reporting that a group of high-level female executives in the entertainment industry have signed a letter calling from his resignation from the Recording Academy.
“The statement you made this week about women in music needing to ‘step up’ was spectacularly wrong and insulting and, at its core, oblivious to the vast body of work created by and with women. Your attempt to backpedal only emphasizes your refusal to recognize us and our achievements. Your most recent remarks do not constitute recognition of women’s achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to ‘welcome’ women. We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves,” reads the letter addressed to Portnow.
“We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down,” the letter continues. “Today we are stepping up and stepping in to demand your resignation.”
You can read the letter — which concludes, “Time’s up, Neil” — in its entirety right here.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Portnow received another letter, written by six top female music executives, who stopped short of calling for his resignation but blasted the Recording Academy under his leadership for being “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, society,” adding: “Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview. They are, unfortunately, emblematic of a much larger issue with the Naras organization as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics.”
Portnow issued the following brief response: “We appreciate the points raised in this letter and welcome the opportunity to work with these executives to address the issues of inclusion, representation, fairness, and diversity in our community,” he said in a statement. “As we establish the details around our recently announced task force, we will seek their input and guidance.”