In the wake of this year’s Grammy’s ceremony, during which Album Of The Year nominee Lorde was not allowed time to give a solo performance, and when only one woman collected a prize during the televised ceremony during a time of intense scrutiny on how women are treated in the industry, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow put his foot in his mouth saying, “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” need to “step up.”
Portnow has since apologized and tried to clarify his comments, but the calls for him to be ousted have only intensified. Today, a collection of some of the most powerful women in the music industry have again taken the Portnow to task for his remarks, while also decrying the state of the organization that he’s charged with running.
In a letter signed by Michele Anthony, an executive vice president at the Universal Music Group; Jody Gerson, the chief executive of Universal’s publishing arm; Julie Greenwald, the co-chairman of Atlantic Records; Sylvia Rhone, the president of Epic Records; Julie Swidler, the general counsel of Sony Music; and Desiree Perez, the chief operating officer of Roc Nation, that was obtained by the New York Times, the group declared the academy is “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, society.”
While these executives don’t go all the way to asking for Portnow to resign, their judgment is harsh. “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,” they wrote.
After his comments spurred a public outcry, Portnow went on record to try and clarify his message. “Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced,” he said. “We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor and empower them. Our community will be richer for it.”
Since then, the Grammys have established an independent task force that is charged with scrutinizing, “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.”
It’s a first step to be sure, but an important one that will hopefully see more women spotlighted on the Grammys stage in the years to come.