Female music industry execs tell Grammys boss to ‘step down’ after his ‘step up’ comment

You brought this on yourself, Neil
Image: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for NARAS

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow (the man in charge of the Grammys) told women in music they’d have to “step up” if they wanted to win more awards. Today, women in music responded by telling him he’s the one who’ll have to step up if he wants to keep his job.

The Grammys faced intense backlash this year for the staggering lack of female artists recognized at the awards show on Sunday.

In a statement to Variety, Portnow responded to the criticism by suggesting that the “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” should “step up because I think they would be welcome.”

His words of encouragement were just what women in music needed to finally step up, and tell him to sit his ass down and listen.

“We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down,” reads the strongly worded letter addressed to Portnow, which was signed by 21 top female music industry executives.

The letter goes on to lay out the systemic sexism that causes female artists to go overlooked by gatekeepers like Portnow. Educating him on the reality of his own industry, the women generously cite a host of cold, hard statistics to inform him on the reality they live through every day.

“Time’s up,” they summarize in their sign-off.

In full, the letter says:

Dear Mr. Neil Portnow,

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. 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.

We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down.

Today we are stepping up and stepping in to demand your resignation.

The stringent requirements for members of NARAS to vote reflect the distorted, unequal balance of executives and creators in our industry. There is simply not enough opportunity and influence granted or accessible to women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. We can continue to be puzzled as to why the Grammys do not fairly represent the world in which we live, or we can demand change so that all music creators and executives can flourish no matter their gender, color of their skin, background or sexual preference.

Let’s take a look some facts, most of which are courtesy of a recent report on Inclusion in Popular Music from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism division:

In 2017, 83.2% of [Grammy-nominated] artists were men and 16.8% were women, a 6 year low for female artists.

A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. A staggering 90.7% of these nominees were male and 9.3% were female.
10% of nominees for Record of the Year across a 6 year sample were female.
Over the last six years, zero women have been nominated as producer of the year.
Of the 600 top songs in 2017, of the 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.
The top nine male songwriters claim almost 1/5th (19.2%) of the songs in the 6 year sample.
The gender ratio of male producers to female producers is 49 to 1.
Only 2 of 651 producers were females from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.
42% of artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
The top male writer has 36 credits, the top female writer has 15 credits.
Of the newly released Billboard Power 100, 18% were women.
In publishing history, there has been only 1 female CEO and 1 male of color CEO. They currently hold these positions.
The position of President of a Label, is currently only held by one woman of color.

WOMEN COMPRISE 51% OF THE POPULATION.

We are here not to merely reprimand you, but to shed light on why there is such an outcry over your comments and remind you of the challenges that women face in our country and, specifically, in the music industry. 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.

Importantly, the letter is not an excuse to lambast Portnow, but a demand for action. As the last paragraph makes clear, these women are giving him an ultimatum, rather than calling for his public execution. 

Portnow is welcome to keep his job, the letter says — if he can demonstrate the capacity to recognize and fix the issues that not only hold women back, but the industry as a whole from reaching its full potential.

Many feel SZA was robbed for not being recognized for her critically acclaimed debut album

Image: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

Ironically, their letter was sent only minutes after Portnow sent his own addressing the music community. In it, he said the Recording Academy had to “overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”

His letter reads in full:

After hearing from many friends and colleagues, I understand the hurt that my poor choice of words following last Sunday’s Grammy telecast has caused. I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right.

The Recording Academy is establishing an independent task force to review 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. We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed.

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.

Sincerely, Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy.

Those are some nice words. And before, words might’ve been enough to get Portnow off the hook. But now, men are finally being held accountable for their actions, and the results of those actions. 

Because this year’s Grammys continued a 9-year streak of record low viewership. Under Portnow’s leadership, the awards show has only continued its downward spiral into irrelevance by failing to recognize the women and black artists who’ve proven to be the future of music.

As president of the organization tasked with awarding and protecting artistry in music, it’s Portnow’s literal job to deliver better results than that. So he’ll have to find the creativity in his heart and soul to do it. Or step down.

Portnow tried to tell women that they failed the industry. Instead, women in the music helpfully showed him exactly how the industry has been failing them for decades. And how they only succeed in spite of its ignorant leaders.

So it’s his choice now: Portnow can either step up to meet the people he’s marginalized at their level, or he can get left behind as they soar beyond him.

Read more: http://mashable.com/

Marissa SafontFemale music industry execs tell Grammys boss to ‘step down’ after his ‘step up’ comment

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