Neil Portnow’s comments urging women in the music industry to “step up,” missed the mark so astronomically it would have been laughable if it wasn’t so offensive.
Within days, a number of female artists including, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Sheryl Crow and Katy Perry had shot back a torrent of scathing and frustrated responses. Several other talent agents, lawyers and managers openly appealed for Portnow’s resignation.
Although the Recording Academy President attempted to redeem himself by retracting his initial comments, his new advice for men to “mentor and empower” women in the industry, elicited hundreds of rolled eyes globally. The sentiment so woefully out of touch, inadequate and patronising it was hard to reconcile.
Now, a week on from the Grammys, a number of female executives– who’d been noticeably absent from the conversation till now– have weighed in on the debate.
And they’re about as happy as we are.
In a joint letter signed by six of the top female industry executives, and addressed to the Recording Academy’s board of trustees, the women claimed the organisation was “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, society.” The letter also appealed for the academy to tackle gender bias, and become more inclusive.
Michele Anthony, an executive vice president at the Universal Music Group; Jody Gerson, the CEO of Universal’s publishing arm; Julie Greenwald, the co-chairman of Atlantic Records; Sylvia Rhone, the president of Epic Records; Julie Swidler, the general counsel of Sony Music; and Desiree Perez, the chief operating officer of Roc Nation were all listed on the signature.
While the letter did not seek the outright dismissal of Neil Portnow, it did suggest that his comments at the Grammys were symptomatic of a deeper problem within the organisation.
“Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview. They are, unfortunately, emblematic of a much larger issue with the Naras organization as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics,” the women wrote.
Giving their words greater weight, the women confirmed their views were also reflective of the major companies they worked for.
Portnow gave a brief statement (likely written by someone else) in response to the letter on Tuesday morning.
“We appreciate the points raised in this letter and welcome the opportunity to work with these executives to address the issues of inclusion, representation, fairness, and diversity in our community. As we establish the details around our recently announced task force, we will seek their input and guidance.”
For the past six years only 9.3 percent of Grammys nominees have been women. Moreover, at this year’s event only one woman, Alessia Cara, won a solo accolade.
Lorde, the only woman nominated for ‘best album’ was also the only nominee in that category snubbed in giving a solo performance.
When asked about why this had happened, Ken Ehrlich, long-time producer of the show, said, “There’s no way we can really deal with everybody.”
Here’s to hoping that this new taskforce, designed to “overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community,” learns to “deal with everybody.”
Because we all know, a lack of “stepping up” is not the defining factor here.