In the wake of Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow’s ill-worded comments after the Grammy Awards Sunday night — in which he said female artists and executives need to “step up” — and a low number of nominees and winners who are women, a group of female music-industry senior executives have issued a letter calling for his resignation. The group, which is led by veteran music-business attorney Rosemary Carroll, also includes agents Cara Lewis, Natalia Nastaskin and Marsha Vlasic; John Legend manager Ty Stiklorius; Pharrell Williams manager Caron Veazey; Warner/Chappell publishing VP Katie Vinten; branding executive Marcie Allen and several others. Notable by their absence are label executives, who arguably would have the most to lose by challenging the Academy.

“The statement you made this week about women in music needing to ‘step up’ was spectacularly wrong and insulting and, at its core, oblivious to the vast body of work created by and with women,” the letter says. “Today we are stepping up and stepping in to demand your resignation.”

The letter arrived minutes after Portnow and the Academy announced a task force designed to improve “female advancement”; a representative for the executives told Variety they were discussing the task force announcement, but for the moment their letter stands. Its text follows in full:

Dear Mr. Neil Portnow,

The statement you made this week about women in music needing to “step up” was spectacularly wrong and insulting and, at its core, oblivious to the vast body of work created by and with women. Your attempt to backpedal only emphasizes your refusal to recognize us and our achievements. Your most recent remarks do not constitute recognition of women’s achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to “welcome” women. We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves.

We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down.

Today we are stepping up and stepping in to demand your resignation.

The stringent requirements for members of NARAS to vote reflect the distorted, unequal balance of executives and creators in our industry. There is simply not enough opportunity and influence granted or accessible to women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. We can continue to be puzzled as to why the Grammys do not fairly represent the world in which we live, or we can demand change so that all music creators and executives can flourish no matter their gender, color of their skin, background or sexual preference.

Let’s take a look some facts, most of which are courtesy of a recent report on Inclusion in Popular Music from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism division:

In 2017, 83.2% of artists of popular songs were men and 16.8% were women, a 6 year low for female artists.
A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. A staggering 90.7% of these nominees were male and 9.3% were female.
Fewer than 10% of the nominees for Record or Album of the Year were female.
Over the last six years, zero women have been nominated as producer of the year.
Of the 600 top songs from 2012 to 2017,of the 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.
The top nine male songwriters claim almost 1/5th (19.2%) of the songs in the 6 year sample.
The gender ratio of male producers to female producers is 49 to 1.
Only 2 of 651 producers were females from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.
42% of artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
The top male writer has 36 credits, the top female writer has 15 credits.
Of the newly released Billboard Power 100, 18% were women.
In publishing history, there has been only 1 female CEO and 1 male of color CEO. They currently hold these positions.
The position of President of a Label, is currently only held by one woman of color.


We are here not to merely reprimand you, but to shed light on why there is such an outcry over your comments and remind you of the challenges that women face in our country and, specifically, in the music industry.   Your comments are another slap in the face to women, whether intended or not; whether taken out of context, or not. Needless to say, if you are not part of the solution, then you must accept that YOU are part of the problem.

Time’s up, Neil.

Marcie Allen, MAC Presents
Gillian Bar, Carroll Guido & Groffman, LLP
Renee Brodeur, Tmwrk
Rosemary Carroll, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Kristen Foster, PMK-BNC
Jennifer Justice, Superfly Presents
Renee Karalian, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Cara Lewis, Cara Lewis Group
Corrie Christopher Martin, Paradigm Talent Agency
Natalia Nastaskin, UTA
Elizabeth Paw, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Carla Sacks, Sacks & Co.
Ty Stiklorius, Friends at Work
Lou Taylor, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group
Beka Tischker, Wide Eyed Entertainment
Marlene Tsuchii, CAA
Caron Veazey, Manager- Pharrell Williams
Katie Vinten, Warner Chappell
Marsha Vlasic, Artist Group International
Gita Williams, Saint Heron
Nicole Wyskoarko, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP

(While not all of the statistics cited in the executives’ letter are within the Recording Academy’s control, they indisputably demonstrate the adversity women face in the music industry.)

Shortly after the Grammy telecast ended on Sunday night, 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 Portnow issued a statement early Tuesday morning walking back his comments. 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.

As Variety noted shortly after the nominees were announced, female artists were significantly under-represented in the biggest categories.

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.