This year’s Grammys were an extremely male affair. Women or women-fronted acts were awarded only 17 of the night’s 86 trophies, and when asked about it after the ceremony, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow really put his foot in it when talking about the gender imbalance. “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 … [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome,” said Portnow. Those comments led to the Academy head being roundly condemned by many female artists (Charli XCX told Portnow via Twitter she was “bout 2 step up on 2 ur face”), including Vanessa Carlton, who circulated a petition yesterday urging him to resign. Today, that pressure has leveled up, with more than a dozen female record executives signing a letter asking him to step down from his position.
“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,” read the beginning of the letter. “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.”
The letter went on to cite statistics for Grammy nominations going back six years, pointing out that, between 2013 and 2018, a full 90 percent of the 899 Grammy nominees were male. Furthermore, only 10 percent of Record of the Year nominees were women, and none at all were nominated for top producing honors. (The numbers were pulled from a study done by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.) Portnow has been president of the Recording Academy for 16 years, and it’s clear that over the course of his tenure, gender representation across jobs in the industry has continued to be sadly low. “There is simply not enough opportunity and influence granted or accessible to women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ,” read the statement from the executives, which continued on to say, “Your comments are another slap in the face to women, whether intended or not; whether taken out of context, or not. Needless to say, if you are not part of the solution, then you must accept that YOU are part of the problem. Time’s up, Neil.”
On the topic of solutions, it just so happens that around the same time news of the letter surfaced, Portnow released his own statement saying the Recording Academy would be establishing an “independent task force” to examine “every aspect” of the organization that hinders advancement of women in the music industry. In the statement, Portnow also apologized for his “poor choice of words” at the Grammys, and added, “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. 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.”
The petition calling for Portnow’s resignation, meanwhile, is currently a few hundred votes shy of its 14,000-signature goal.