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Portnow Calls for Women to “Step Up” at Grammys

Petition against Portnow has now reached 10,000 signatures. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Petition against Portnow has now reached 10,000 signatures. (Courtesy of Flickr)


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Petition against Portnow has now reached 10,000 signatures. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Gayathri Thelekatt

As a result of the recent rise in women’s empowerment movements, like Time’s Up and #MeToo, the role of women in the entertainment industry is under scrutiny. Wage gaps and underrepresentation are only a few of the elements that contribute to the imbalanced power dynamic between men and women within the industry.

At the 60th annual Grammy Awards Ceremony, Neil Portnow, president of the the Recording Academy, commented that female artists and executives need to “step up” if they want to be included within the music industry. Portnow’s comment was received with angry backlash from the public. With Alessia Cara being the only female recipient of a major award. Even prominent female artists like Katy Perry, Halsey and Charli XCX have spoken out, criticizing Portnow for his Grammy comments. P!nk even uploaded an image to Twitter of a handwritten note which reads, “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’- women have been stepping up since the beginning of time.”

The awards show itself has also received major criticism for its lack of female winners. Pop star Lorde was also denied the opportunity for a solo performance. The show, however, did feature a performance by Kesha, in which she paid tribute to the #MeToo movement. However, considering both David Portnow’s comments and the almost negligible amount of female winners, it is evident that the music industry needs to “step up” its ability to provide opportunities for female artists and producers.

Portnow’s comment was not well received due to his assumption that women are making no effort worthy of being recognized. Rather, the problem lies within the industry. Countless hit albums and songs were released by female artists this year, including SZA’s CTRL and Lorde’s Melodrama. Women have to work twice as hard to be recognized for their talents. Lorde was the sole female artist to be nominated for Best Album, yet the Academy refused to give her a solo performance slot.

Portnow’s actions have taken a devastating toll on his career. The president of the Recording Academy has chosen not to attend the Pollstar Live! Conference in Los Angeles, where he was to appear on a panel called “Behind the Grammy Awards” due to recent criticisms of his job as president. After his comment at the Grammys, a letter was addressed to the Recording Academy’s board of trustees stating, “The organization is woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business and, even more significantly, society.” Six of the most powerful female executives within the industry signed the letter.

A petition titled “Academy President Must Step Down for Telling Female Musicians to ‘Step Up’ After Grammy’s” has reached nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition, originally created by Care2, received further attention after singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton tweeted the link stating, “Attention everyone, especially musicians: Step up. And sign the petition to have Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy/Grammys, to step down”. Although the petition will have no real sway over the decision of the Recording Academy to fire Portnow, it reflects the vast discontent from both the public and members of the industry with Portnow’s comment.

The backlash to Portnow’s comment is so severe because women in the industry have a long history of having to work twice as hard to reach the success of their male counterparts. NPR released a piece entitled “Hey Ladies: Being A Woman Musician Today,” in which they interviewed hundreds of women within the music industry on the obstacles they face because of their gender. Many of the interviewees pointed out that women in music are often sexualized, making it difficult for them to get their producers or audience to focus on their talent rather than their appearance. Others mentioned that there is a preconceived notion that women possess less musical ability than their male counterparts.

Neil Portnow’s insensitive comments at the 60th annual Grammy awards came from a place of ignorance. As the president of the most influential organization in music in the country, Portnow should be more aware of the strife of female musicians and producers, especially in the current climate surrounding the treatment of women in the entertainment industry. Rather than calling for women to “step up,” the Academy should be working towards providing more opportunities for women within the industry and creating an equal playing field between men and women.

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Portnow Calls for Women to “Step Up” at Grammys