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Neil Portnow backtracks on claim that women in the music industry need to “step up”

By | Published on Wednesday 31 January 2018

Grammy Awards

Grammy Awards boss Neil Portnow has done a bit of frantic backpedalling, following criticism of his comments that women should “step up” if they want to start winning prizes at the ceremony.

Sunday’s big prize-giving event was criticised for its poor representation of women in the music industry, after just one woman – Alessia Cara – was presented with an award during the actual televised show. Various other issues were highlighted, such as Lorde (the only female nominee for Best Album) not being offered the opportunity to perform solo, while the likes of U2 (not actually nominated for anything) appeared on stage twice.

Asked about this by Variety on the night, Portnow said: “It has to begin with 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”.

Understandably, this merely increased the criticism of the Grammys. In a handwritten note posted on Twitter, Pink noted that women “have been stepping up since the beginning of time”, continuing: “stepping up, and also stepping aside, women owned music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And, every year before this”.

Meanwhile, Britney Spears’ business manager Lou Taylor wrote on Instagram: “I step up and step in every day! There are countless women who help provide the foundation that this business is built on … Maybe next year we will have a new Academy president and a new producer. I hear the Academy needs a new accountant since you are in debt – I know a good woman who can ‘step up’ and help get you out of debt and help you pull your head out of your ass”.

But, hey, when Portnow said that women needed to “step up”, that isn’t what he meant. He meant a different thing. In a statement to Billboard, he said: “I was asked a question about the lack of female artist representation in certain categories of this year’s Grammy Awards. Regrettably, I used two words, ‘step up’, that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make”.

He continued: “Our industry must recognise that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor, and empower them. Our community will be richer for it. I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought. I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer, and more representative place for everyone”.

Yeah, that would have been a better thing to say. As would putting on an awards ceremony that didn’t necessitate such criticism in the first place. Then claiming to be doing things to improve representation for everyone might not have seemed quite so hollow.

Lorde, meanwhile, took out a full page advert in the New Zealand Herald yesterday, thanking fans for their support and for “believing in female musicians”.