The following is an opinion piece from Wide Open Country Senior Writer and voting Grammy member Jeremy Burchard.
Last night, The Grammys fully embraced the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Attendees wore white roses in solidarity with women who experienced harassment and assault. Kesha delivered a stirring performance of “Praying,” backed by an all-female choir of her famous peers. Janelle Monae gave a rousing speech in which she declared, “We come in peace, but we mean business.”
The show increasingly embraces social awareness, with an eye firmly on equality. By all accounts, the Grammy Awards telecast gave a platform to the cause.
But my fellow Recording Academy members — all the way up to president Neil Portnow — failed that cause miserably.
Men nearly swept the on-air awards. Only one solo female artist received an award on stage that night: Alessia Cara, who took home Best New Artist.
The pre-telecast awards, which is where most of the Grammys are given out, did only marginally better. Reba McEntire, Shakira, CeCe Winans, Lisa Loeb and Carrie Fisher were among the few females to win in an otherwise male-dominated nominee pool.
And as a recent USC study found, women aren’t even getting much of a shot to win. In the past five years, more than 90% of Grammy nominees were male.
But here’s the real problem. When asked about the disparity, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow didn’t blame the system — he blamed the women.
“It 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,” Portnow told Variety. “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”
How is it possible for the president of the preeminent music organization in the world to be so tone deaf? In finishing his thought, Portnow added, “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.”
According to Portnow, women are at fault for not being successful enough in the industry and not paving the way for other females to find their place in the industry.
And from his statements, the industry should be more welcoming to these women who apparently are too timid with their talent. Who knew the reason there are no female heads of major record labels is because they just don’t *want* to be part of the industry on an executive level?
Neil, let me talk to you man to man, because apparently that matters. When was the last time you truly immersed yourself in the early stages of career building in this industry?
Recording studios are historically unpleasant for women. You spend days, weeks and months in a dimly lit, isolated building trying to craft intimately creative art. Males dominate the space. And eventually, you end up with inside jokes and sometimes crude humor. Which is fine — until it’s at the expense of somebody else.
All it takes is one jackass (often somebody in a position of power) to make a snide remark that makes the environment uncomfortable, if not downright unsafe, for a woman. Why would female engineers want to subject themselves to that? Why try to infiltrate the “good ol’ boy’s club” when they can create their own masterpieces in a safe home studio environment — that often goes unnoticed by the Academy or the major label system.
At a recent music industry event in Nashville focusing on women in the industry, songwriter Daniella Mason shared her own frustrations of dealing with sexism in the board room at her major label. She recalled that the largely male board room was so averse to listening to a female artist’s voice that her ideas went unheard.
Finally, she had her husband read them off over a conference call. They immediately implement her ideas, and when she confronted her superiors about the discrepancy, they eventually brought Mason in to talk to other artists on the roster on how to implement them. They literally went from not listening to her because she’s a female to asking her to do their job for them. Mason is now an independent artist.
As an artist, I work with incredibly talented women every day — including my bandmate. Even in Texas, where we started, venue owners and talent agents had no fear in plainly saying “We don’t work with female acts.” There’s a reason Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris all left Texas to find success.
As a journalist, I listen to their stories and struggles weekly. Caitlyn Smith is the prime example of a woman with undeniable talent who had to prove herself ten times over — just to be rejected by every label in town. She independently funded her debut record, and you better believe it’s the first album I’m nominating at the Grammys next year.
Neil, if you think talented women aren’t stepping forward with their artistry, you need to head back to the ground floor. Women are dealt a short hand from a crooked deck every day in this industry. If you aren’t conventionally attractive with the right group of men around you, you just don’t get the same look.
As a Grammy voter, our voting body’s inability to look inwards consistently disappoints me. Problematic awards aside (ahem, Ed Sheeran with Best Pop Solo Performance), that room was filled with crocodile tears from the same people who refused to help Kesha in her time of need because of “contract disputes.” It’s time to cull the industry of this mindset. And, if necessary, of these people.
And then Neil Portnow has the balls to suggest that women aren’t present in that room because they’re too shy with their talent. If that’s what the head of the Recording Academy truly believes, I’ll let Vanessa Carlton offer a parting thought.