Embattled Grammy chief Neil Portnow, who is facing calls for his resignation in the wake of an ill-phrased comment that female artists and executives need to “step up” in order to get ahead in the music industry, has pulled out of a Thursday speaking appearance at the Pollstar Live! Conference in Los Angeles.
Portnow was to appear on a panel called “Behind the Grammy Awards Show” with producer Ken Ehrlich and Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman. “The seamless, exciting show and well-conceived performances that fans enjoy on the CBS telecast are the result of months of planning and a crack team of on-site professionals that know how to execute at the highest level and overcome challenges on the fly,” the panel blurb, which remains on the conference’s site, reads. “In a Pollstar Live! exclusive, Grammy show producers will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Grammy Awards in what is sure to be a compelling, informative session.” A rep for Pollstar said no replacement panel had been confirmed at press time.
While the flashpoint for the controversy were comments made by Portnow and Ehrlich immediately after the show, the problems are deep-seated. As Variety noted shortly after the nominees were announced, female artists were significantly under-represented in the biggest categories, 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.
While three of the five new artist nominees were women — Alessia Cara, Julia Michaels and SZA — solo female artists received exactly two of the 15 total nominations in the other three categories, and even that came with a caveat: Michaels’ “Issues” was nominated for song, a songwriters’ award she would have shared with four other (male) writers. That’s unlike Lorde’s “Melodrama,” up for album, which is awarded to the artist. And though SZA, Cara and Ledisi had strong showings (with five, four and three nods, respectively), three men had five nominations, six men had four and 20 men had three.
Several quick answers emerged when examining the situation. The biggest female artists and/or winners in recent years — Beyoncé, Adele, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Pink, Kelly Clarkson — did not release albums in the eligibility period, although the latter three are nominated for individual songs. Hip-hop, which dominates the top categories, is indisputably ruled by male artists. Recent albums from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga underwhelmed critically and commercially. Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” was expected by some to receive an album nomination, but in another surprise, country music was absent from the top categories for only the second time in 24 years.
Yet other categories show how many women qualified for this year’s awards. Clarkson, Pink, Gaga and Kesha comprised four of the five nominees for Best Pop Solo Performance; Lana Del Rey was up for Best Pop Vocal Album. Cardi B, Kehlani and Ledisi scored rap or R&B noms; Alison Krauss and Maren Morris were nominated along with Lambert for country awards. Kesha, who has become a rallying figure against sexual assault for her ongoing lawsuit against former mentor/collaborator Dr. Luke, was nominated twice. And despite their high profiles, with the exception of Best New Artist, females have won relatively few big categories in the 2000s: Album of the Year winners were Adele, the Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones and Swift (and Krauss with Robert Plant); along with the above artists, Song and/or Record has gone to Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Lorde and Amy Winehouse.