Grammys president tells women in music to 'step up' after male-dominated show

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After only one woman won a Grammy in a major category Sunday night (Alessia Cara for Best New Artist), Recording Academy president Neil Portnow had a controversial opinion when asked about changing the status quo.

“I think 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, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on the executive level — to step up,” Portnow told Variety after the program, as #GrammysSoMale trended on Twitter.

“Because I think they would be welcome,” he continued. “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face, but I think it’s really a combination. Us as an industry making the welcome mat very obvious, creating mentorships, creating opportunities not only for women but 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, they can say anything.”

“It’s not for me to talk about,” said Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich. “I produce the TV show.”

After the wave of support for the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, many stars at the Grammys wore white roses as a sign of solidarity, and the show included an empowering performance of Kesha’s “Praying” featuring her fellow female pop stars as backup singers. However, the hashtag #GrammysSoMale trended Sunday night as men swept eight of the nine categories featured in the Grammys broadcast, including Best Pop Solo Performance, in which Ed Sheeran was the only male artist nominated.

Lorde, who wore a feminist message sewn onto her Grammys dress, was the only woman nominated for Album of the Year but did not perform, even as most of the male artists in the category — Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar — took the stage. According to TMZ, sources close to Lorde said she wasn’t offered a solo performance slot, but rather part of the Tom Petty tribute.

“We have a wealth of riches every year, and it’s hard to have a balanced show and have everybody involved,” Portnow said of the lineup amid criticism. “We can’t have a performance from every nominee — we have over 80 categories — so we have to realize that we have to create something that has balance.”

Asked if it was a mistake not to invite Lorde to perform, Ehrlich said, “I don’t know if it was a mistake. These shows are always a matter of choices, and we know we have a box and the box gets full. She had a great album, but there’s no way we can really deal with everybody. Overall, we did the best we can to make sure it’s representative of our show.”

Ahead of the awards show, presenter Janelle Monaé tweeted a statistic from a USC study: “A total of 90.7% of nominees between 2013 and 2018 were male, meaning just 9.3% were women. #TimesUp #Grammys”

Next year’s show, for which Taylor Swift’s reputation will be eligible, might be different. “It wasn’t her year,” Portnow said of Swift. “She was kind of off cycle. Hopefully we’ll see her next year.”

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