Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow Announces Grammys Task Force to Address Biases Against Female Advancement

Neil Portnow
Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP

Neil Portnow participate in the 60th Annual Grammy Awards red carpet roll out at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 25, 2018 in New York City.

The organization's board is standing behind its president following his controversial remarks, sources say.

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow released an open letter to the music community Thursday (Feb. 1) declaring the Recording Academy will establish an independent task force to review "where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community."

The missive comes four days after Portnow came under fire for remarks he made backstage  following Sunday night’s Grammy Awards when best new artist winner Alessia Cara was the only woman to receive an award during the television portion of the ceremony. Portnow said women need to "step up," if they want to have a bigger role in making music and in the industry. He followed with an apology on Tuesday that did little to quell the rising tide of resentment by some for his remarks. 

In Thursday’s statement, Portnow again reiterated that he understood "the hurt that my poor choice of words" caused. He continued, "Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right."

Despite the furor, Portnow has the full support of the Recording Academy's board, according to a source, who adds the task force will not review whether he stays in his position. Earlier this week, board chair John Poppo sent a letter to the board trustees thanking them for their leadership, describing the current situation as "surreal."

Following Cara’s win as for best new artist, Portnow told reporters backstage following the Grammy Awards  that improving the plight of female artists "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.... [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 you 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."

In a subsequent statement, he explained: "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," he said in the statement. "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."

His apologies have not stopped the circulation of a petition titled "Academy President Must Step Down for Telling Female Musicians To Step Up" with more than 13,000 signatures calling for his resignation. Additionally, Kelly Clarkson, Iggy Azalea, Katy Perry, P!nk, Halsey and Charli XCX have all called out Portnow’s comments on social media. 

Immediately following the release of his Thursday remarks, a letter signed by more than 20 leading female executives in the industry, including Artist Group International Marsha Vlasic, MAC Presents Marcie Allen and Friends At Work’s Ty Stiklorius released an open letter to Portnow calling for his resignation. No female label executives signed the letter. 

Read Portnow’s Thursday letter released by the Recording Academy in full:

To The Music Community—

After hearing from many friends and colleagues, I understand the hurt that my poor choice of words following last Sunday’s GRAMMY telecast has caused. I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right.  

The Recording Academy is establishing an independent task force to review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community. We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed. 

I appreciate that the issue of gender bias needs to be addressed in our industry, and share in the urgency to attack it head on. We as an organization, and I as its leader, pledge our commitment to doing that. We will share more information about the steps we are taking in the coming weeks.


Neil Portnow

President/CEO of the Recording Academy

2018 Grammy Awards