Grammys Chief Says Women Should "Step Up" After Male Artists Win Majority of Awards
He also addresses why Lorde, who was the only woman nominated for the album of the year prize, wasn’t invited to perform solo.
The 60th Grammy Awards went smoothly enough as the stars came out, mega-collabs lit up Madison Square Garden in New York, and the winners went away, well, grinning. But something wasn’t quite right about the industry’s night of nights, observers noted. Something important was missing: women.
Speaking to the press backstage at Madison Square Garden, the show’s producers responded to chatter about the underrepresentation of women, and in particular the absence of Lorde from the stage.
Of the 86 awards handed out Sunday, only 17 went to women or female-led bands. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told reporters backstage he thinks increased visibility on the broadcast comes with more women who "step up" to become part of the industry.
"I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level to step up," he said. "Because I think they would be welcome, I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face, but I think it’s really a combination — it’s us as an industry making the welcome mat very obvious, creating mentorships, creating opportunities not only for women but for all people who want to be creative and really paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists who feel like they can do anything and say anything. The other thing that’s interesting today in terms of technology is nobody is beholden or stuck in a system where you’ve got just the label as a way to get your music heard. There’s so many opportunities today. So if someone’s passionate about it, doesn’t matter what your gender, genre, geography — do it yourself, take it from your heart and put it out there."
Later Monday, Pink responded to Portnow's comments on Twitter, writing: "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."
As for Lorde, the New Zealander hit the summit of the Billboard 200 for the first time with Melodrama, her sophomore album, which was shortlisted for album of the year. Lorde was the only woman nominated for the prize, but she apparently wasn’t extended an invite to perform solo. And people want to know why.
Backstage, Portnow and Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich were pressed on the awkward situation. "These shows are always a matter of choices, and we know we have a box and the box gets full and filled up,” Ehrlich told reporters. “She had a great album, album of the year is a big honor, but there's no way we can really deal with everybody. Sometimes people get left out that shouldn't, but on the other hand, we did the best we can to make sure that it's a representative and balanced show."
Earlier, Lorde reportedly declined an offer to perform as part of a group tribute to Tom Petty involving his song "American Girl," though she did take the stage Friday night to cover Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs” at the pre-Grammys MusiCares Person of the Year.
Lorde's mother, the NZ poet Sonja Yelich, shared her thoughts on her daughter’s apparent snub with a Twitter post, highlighting a New York Times article that addressed gender inequality among Grammy winners.
Portnow also tackled the controversy. "We have a wealth of riches every year, and it’s hard to have a balanced show and have everybody involved,” he told reporters Sunday night. “Every year is different, we can’t have a performance from every nominee — we have over 80 categories. So we have to realize that we’ve got to create something that has balance, and so on and so forth. And what you saw was our best judgment of how to do that.”
Other female artists also took to Twitter to weigh in on Portnow's comments.
I wish the #Grammys would return to female/male categories. Who will young girls be inspired by to pick up a guitar and rock when most every category is filled with men? I'm not sure it is about women needing to “step up”, (as said by the male in charge). #GrammysSoMale https://t.co/v1rvbT3pCC— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) January 29, 2018
If the Olympics were set up the way the Grammys are now, then we'd have women competing with men. #GrammysSoMale— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) January 29, 2018
1/2: To put it on women not tapping into their creativity and not pushing for roles in the business of music such as producing, it seemingly comes off as sexist. It is a strangely insensitive thing to say, particularly at this juncture of women standing up for themselves... pic.twitter.com/Ji59acguNL— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) January 30, 2018
2/2: ...demanding equality and fairness. The lack of female representation is not about there not being enough quality coming from women in music, it’s about the fact that the opportunities for women to have a presence have been chopped in half. #GrammysSoMale— Sheryl Crow (@SherylCrow) January 30, 2018
Another powerful woman, leading by example. We ALL have a responsibility to call out the absurd lack of equality everywhere we see it. I'm proud of ALL the women making incredible art in the face of continual resistance.— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) January 30, 2018
P.s VH1 Divas Live. https://t.co/RDmB7zRfId
Neil Portnow really has me heated with his "women need to step up" Grammy-Boys-Club bullshit statement.— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) January 30, 2018
Or instead of being gracious and wearing white flowers on the carpet (bringing in the viewers for his telecast in designer gowns) women should consider if we NEED to take firmer action and stay at home in PJs next year... see how that works out for Neil. https://t.co/Qu3URie8ue— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) January 30, 2018
I strongly back the disagreement with the way that the Academy approaches things but please remember the Grammys are voted by a “jury of peers” which means other artists and producers and writers select the nominees.— h (@halsey) January 30, 2018
Neil’s comment was absurd. Female artists came HARD in 2017. But the nominees are selected by peers and their opinion of the music. Which means it’s a conversation about the standards of which the ENTIRE INDUSTRY expects women to uphold.— h (@halsey) January 30, 2018
Maybe it’s nepotism and our opinion / votes don’t actually matter. Maybe it’s selected by the Grammy board members in the end. Maybe it’s all a sham. I just really wish I got to see justice and fairness and ONE woman winning a televised award is bullshit.— h (@halsey) January 30, 2018
Jan. 29, 3:45 p.m. Pink's comments added.
Jan. 30, 10:02 a.m. Tweets from more female artists added.
A version of this story first appeared on Billboard.com. THR staff contributed to this report.