Women major label execs condemn “woefully out of touch” Grammys

Leaders at major record labels are speaking out after Neil Portnow’s “step up” remarks.

February 05, 2018
Women major label execs condemn “woefully out of touch” Grammys Neil Portnow speaks onstage during the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards. January 28, 2018.   Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for NARAS

The Record Academy will receive a letter from six major record label executives who are women who say the organization, which manages The Grammys, is “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, society." The letter, first reported by The New York Times, comes a week after Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said women need to "step up" in order to have better careers in music.

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Sent on Monday, the letter is the first public statement from women in leadership roles at major record labels. It is signed by Michele Anthony, executive vice president Universal Music Group; Jody Gerson, chief executive of publishing at Universal; Julie Greenwald, Atlantic Records co-chairman; Sylvia Rhone, president of Epic Records; Sony Music's general counsel Julie Swidler; and Desiree Perez, chief operating officer at Roc Nation. Each woman was writing with the backing and support of their respective companies.

While Portnow has since faced pressure to resign, the letter does not call on him to step down (a source tells Billboard that the Recording Academy is not contemplating firing Portnow). The letter does push back on Portnow's claims that his comments were taken out of context.

It reads: "Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview. They are, unfortunately, emblematic of a much larger issue with the Naras organization as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics.” (Naras stands for National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the academy's legal name).

The new letter comes days after another one in which more than a dozen other women executives called on Portnow to resign. Last week Portnow announced the formation of "an independent task force" to "identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede women advancement in the music community."

Lack of women representation in the music industry was the focus of a new report from The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It also looked at the Grammys, and found that over six years and five major categories, only 10% of the nominees were female.

At the 2018 Grammys, Alessia Cara was the only woman to win in a major category, and Lorde, who was nominated for Album of the Year, was reportedly not asked to perform while each of her male co-nominees were. Portnow responded to this criticism in the same Variety interview he made the "step up" comments, saying "[Lorde] had a great album. There’s no way we can really deal with everybody.”

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Women major label execs condemn “woefully out of touch” Grammys