Recording Academy CEO Responds to "Step Up" Backlash

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Neil Portnow

Pink and Charli XCX were just two of the female artists who fired back at Neil Portnow.

In response to the strong backlash over his claims that women need to "step up" if they want to be more creatively involved in the music business, Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow issued a statement Monday night clarifying his previous comments.

"Last night, 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," Portnow said. "Our industry must recognize 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."

The original "step up" quote came during a backstage interview during Sunday night's 60th annual Grammy Awards, which some critics said appeared to be tone-deaf in its underrepresentation of women in the midst of the #MeToo/#TimesUp movements against sexual harassment and assault and calls for more equal representation and pay.

Replying to questions about why Lorde — the only woman nominated for Album of the Year — was not among the performers at the show, the event's executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, said, "These shows are always a matter of choices, and we know we have a box and the box gets full and filled up. 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."

Portnow then added comments that included the disputed "step up" phrasing, which drew heated responses from a number of prominent artists, including Pink, who performed on the telecast. "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," Portnow said.

On a night when women made up 9 percent of the Grammys' 899 nominees, Pink responded on Twitter with a note in support of fellow female artists. "Women in music don’t need to “step up” — women have been stepping 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," she wrote.

Charli XCX also had something to say about Portnow's "step up" statement, tweeting, "ugh about 2 step up on 2 ur face...women are making AMAZING music right now wtf is this dude talking about ?????" Multiple other female artists took to Twitter to weigh in on Portnow's comment.

A version of this story first appeared on billboard.com