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Recording Academy CEO says women need to ‘step up’ to win Grammys

Neil Portnow at the BET Awards at the

Neil Portnow at the BET Awards at the Nokia Theatre on June 30, 2013, in Los Angeles. Credit: AP / Invision / Chris Pizzello

Though the 60th Annual Grammy Awards was awash in politically charged statements and powerful performances, the most controversial comment may have come after the show.

Women need to “step up” if they want to win more Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said when asked about the fact that there was only one female winner of a major award — best new artist Alessia Cara — shown winning Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

“I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls — who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level — to step up, because I think they would be welcome,” Portnow said, answering a question from a female reporter. “I don’t have personal experience with the kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s really a combination of us in the industry making a welcome mat very obvious: creating mentorships, creating opportunities, not only for women, but for all people, and paying it forward, creating that next generation of artists who feel like they can do anything and say anything.”

The #GrammySoMale movement had already started last week after a new study on the Grammy Awards showed that in the last five years 90.7 percent of the nominees were male. The study by Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Kate Pieper of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also surveyed the gender and racial breakdown of the performers, writers and producers of Billboard’s top 100 songs and found that in 2017, only 16.8 percent of the artists were women.

Variety reported that Lorde, the only female artist nominated for album of the year, declined to perform on the show after she was not offered the chance to perform by herself, an opportunity given to the male nominees.

Portnow didn’t comment on that report, but he addressed the issue by saying, “We have a wealth of riches every year, and it’s hard to have a balanced show and have everybody involved . . . We can’t have a performance from every nominee — we have over 80 categories — so we have to realize that we have to create something that has balance.”

Many using #GrammysSoMale on social media pointed out that Portnow’s comments did not match the vision several Grammys presenters laid out during the show. “We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power,” Janelle Monae said in introducing Kesha. “It’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington — it’s right here in our industry as well. And just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well.”

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P!nk publicly addressed Portnow’s comments on Twitter Monday evening. The “So What” singer posted a photo of a handwritten note on the social media platform, stating: “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ — women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside.”

The Grammy winner continued, stating: “Women owned music this year. They’ve been killing it. And every year before this. When we celebrate and honor 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 looks like to be fair.”

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