To Neil Portnow, Women Have Stepped Up

You know when you read something that makes you so angry that you can’t help but write a 500+ word piece about it? That’s the mood for the following column. 

A few weeks ago, the Grammy Awards were held in New York City and were, in my opinion, a total bust. Bruno Mars swept the main categories, there were no outstanding performances, and worst of all, only two solo female acts took home awards. On top of this, Lorde, who was the only woman nominated for Album of the Year, was also the only nominee to not be invited to perform at the show. 

This led to immediate backlash from music fans around the world. In a time where movements like “Me Too” and “Times Up” are encouraging women to raise their voices, doesn’t it seem like the Recording Academy was doing quite the opposite?

Days after the ceremony, the controversy when reports surfaced that upon being asked why women were so underrepresented at the ceremony, President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow responded with, “[Women] 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.” 

Portnow, a 70-year-old man, is justifying the underrepresentation of women in the music industry by stating that these women aren’t “[stepping] up.” 

Women in the music industry have been “stepping up” for as long as the industry has been around. While male artists can often times get away with going out on stage in a t-shirt and jeans, standing still and playing a guitar, women are heavily criticized if their performances don’t include flashy outfits, advanced choreography, near-flawless vocals, or all of the above. A praised performance by Ed Sheeran would get Taylor Swift crucified. 

In the past year alone, women in the music industry faced and overcame significant challenges. The best example of this would be Kesha, who spent years fighting a court battle to be released from a contract that forces her to work under her abuser. In 2017, Kesha finally won her case, and released the inspirational album Rainbow, which was led by “Praying,” an emotional song about moving on and forgiving those who have done you wrong. The Grammy’s refused to award the song, instead giving “Best Pop Solo Performance” to Ed Sheeran, who wasn’t even in attendance to receive the award. 

Ariana Grande is another woman who absolutely “stepped up” in 2017. After a terrorist attack outside of her concert in Manchester left 23 dead, Grande held “One Love Manchester,” a benefit concert to support the families of the victims. The situation was one that no one should ever have to experience, especially in the public eye, but Grande did so with grace, and was back on stage less than a month after the tragedy. 

The list goes on and on. In response to the comment, singer P!nk released a statement on Twitter that I felt sums things up pretty well: 

“Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ – women have been stepping up since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside, women owned music this year. They’ve been killing it, and every year before this. When we celebrate and honor the talent and accomplishments of women, and how much women step up every year, against all odds, we show the next generation of women and girls and boys and men what it means to be equal, and what it looks like to be fair.” 

While Portnow released a follow-up statement saying that it was poor word choice and attempted to undo his damage, the negative impact of the comment had still exists, and will forever. Imagine how young women who have dreams of entering the music industry must have felt when they were told that the women who they look up to and idolize weren’t doing enough. 

The simple fact is that the music industry was and continues to be male dominated. Even with this in mind, women still had a great year in music. Taylor Swift, Cardi B and Camila Cabello all topped the charts against the odds, and numerous other women put in hard work to release amazing albums. 

To Portnow, and anyone else who shares his opinion, I’d just like to say that women in music have been, and will continue to not only “step up,” but go above and beyond, whether their efforts are recognized or not.