Grammys President Faces Backlash After Telling Women to ‘Step Up’
In the days after the Grammy Awards, some griping about the winners can always be expected, with debates in recent years focusing on racial diversity and the institution’s relationship with hip-hop.
But following the 60th annual Grammys on Sunday, two words uttered backstage by Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, ignited a controversy that has drawn rebukes from some of the most powerful women in music at a particularly fraught time, amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against harassment and professional inequality.
Asked about the gender representation among winners on the televised portion of the awards, during which just one woman was given a solo Grammy, Mr. Portnow told reporters that “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.” The comments, first reported by Variety, spread quickly online and gave a viral push to the budding hashtag #GrammysSoMale.
In a handwritten note posted to Twitter on Monday, the pop singer Pink, who performed on Sunday, wrote: “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ — women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside.” She added: “Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this.”
— P!nk (@Pink) January 29, 2018
Others even called for Mr. Portnow, who assumed his position in 2002, to step down, leading to its own hashtag. The rapper Iggy Azalea also raised the possibility of a Grammys boycott, writing on Twitter that “women should consider if we NEED to take firmer action and stay at home in PJs next year… see how that works out for Neil.”
Women need to step up? I'll make the obvious comment: maybe Neil Portnow needs to step down #GrammysSoMale
— rooting for kesha (@annkpowers) January 29, 2018
Jessica Sobhraj, president of the Women in Music organization, says Portnow failed to acknowledge the many hurdles women face trying to make it in the music industry.
“This issue certainly isn’t one of women needing to step up,” Sobhraj told the Daily News. “Clearly, women are stepping up. There are more pervasive issues encountered on a daily basis that women, in particular, have to face.”
Those issues, Sobhraj says, include discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, far fewer opportunities than men and blatant underrepresentation.
That lack of female visibility is evident in a study released earlier this month by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg journalism school that found about 9% of all Grammy nominees between 2013 and 2018 are women.