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Women will win Grammys when they ‘step up,’ says Recording Academy president

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Neil Portnow defends the awards show’s terrible track record

60th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Press Room Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

Last night at the Grammys, only one woman accepted an award onstage during the three-plus-hour live broadcast: Best New Artist winner Alessia Cara. Total, 11 awards out of 84 went to women. In the last six years, as The New York Times pointed out on Thursday, 899 people have been nominated for the awards, and 9 percent of them were women.

The hashtag #GrammysSoMale has been trending on Twitter for about 12 hours. In response, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told Variety, “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.”

He continued with some advice: “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that [women] face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

Portnow has a point: awards go to women less often because there are simply fewer women songwriters and producers. According to a report published by the University of Southern California, only 12 percent of songwriters and 2 percent of producers credited on the top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017 were women. Whether this is because women do not currently have “creativity in their hearts or souls” or because they have been systematically discriminated against is not addressed.

Do men write 88 percent of our popular music because only men are participating in the human experience? Do men produce 98 percent of our popular music because only men know how to translate a personal event into terms of broad emotional relevance and resonance? My guess is no, but these things are hard to prove — particularly when you don’t bother to think about them!

Variety also asked Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich if he regretted the decision to ask every Album of the Year nominee except Lorde — the only female nominee — to perform. He responded, “I don’t know if it was a mistake. These shows are a matter of choices. We have a box and it gets full. She had a great album. There’s no way we can really deal with everybody.”

The “box” he’s talking about is an event that included a tribute to Eric Clapton (who is alive), a Sting and Shaggy collaboration, more than one U2 performance, and a completely unexplained excerpt from a 1978 musical, in honor of a man whose most recent contribution to the cultural conversation was an adaptation of a Jack Black movie. Women, if only they were working as hard as The Edge, would certainly be welcome.