The weekend provided no reprieve for Grammy chief Neil Portnow as Fiona Apple lambasted his twice-walked-back comment that female artists need to “step up” with a rebuke of her own — in the form of a T-shirt that says “Kneel, Portnow.”
The outspoken singer wore the shirt while making a guest appearance with Garbage’s Shirley Manson at the femme-centric Girlschool L.A. festival at the city’s Bootleg Theater on Saturday night. Fittingly, the two sang a cover of Leslie Gore’s 1963 Quincy Jones-produced hit “You Don’t Own Me.” Apple sang it gruffly, recalling Joan Jett’s 1979 cover, which was recorded with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols.
While Manson introduced Apple with a long introduction about her love for the singer’s music, which she discovered after receiving a CD on a 1996 Garbage tour, no comments about Portnow are heard on several fan-recorded video clips from the show.
The uproar began shortly after the Grammy telecast ended on Sunday night, when Portnow replied to a Variety reporter’s question about how female artists, who garnered a very low number of nominations and wins, can move forward in years ahead. “[Women] who want to be musicians, engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level [need] to step up,” he said.
The outcry on social media was swift and unforgiving, and even thought Portnow issued two statements walking back his comment, including one in which he pledged to create a task force at the Academy designed to further “female advancement,” a group of powerful female industry executives on Thursday issued a letter calling for his resignation.
Yet those two words became a misleading focus of the real problem, which is the low number of female nominees on the ballot — despite an unprecedentedly diverse slate of nominees in terms of race and musical genre, and despite a powerful #MeToo-themed performance from Kesha and speech from Janelle Monae during the show.
When asked by TMZ last month whether sexual harassment is as prevalent in the music business as the film industry, Apple shot back, “F— yes, are you f—ing kidding me?”