The head of the Recording Academy, its president and CEO of nearly 20 years, Neil Portnow, has announced he will transition out of his leadership role when his contract ends in 2019.
Following calls from many that Portnow should step down after his comment that women should "step up" if they want to win more awards or be given more stage time at the Grammy Awards, multiple letters demanding his resignation or a serious rethinking of how the Grammys work were sent out. Portnow and the Academy board, however, have chosen not to remove him but instead allow Portnow to help in the transition to new leadership, including having a say in the process of finding his successor, according to a press release.
The commentary on social media was nowhere near as thick with celebrities as it was around the time of Portnow's comments, but a few women weighed in. Among them was Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson. Speaking to Refinery29, Manson said, "Why is he being afforded such an elegant departure, and why did it take so long to get him out? Yet another frustrating example of women not being considered or supported. Nevertheless I am thrilled the Academy finally did the right thing, and he is kneeling down. About bloody time."
"Kneeling down" is a reference to the handmade T-shirt Fiona Apple wore while performing with Manson not long after Portnow's comments.
Meshell Ndegeocello addressed complaints that the Grammys have long had a voting body and voting system that overlooks the work of artists of colour and female performers. She also issued a warning that she is coming for his job.
"The Grammys are a world where a few people have the power and their ears are the only ones to please. I'm still dealing with Neil Portnow saying women need to step it up after the Grammys," Ndegeocello tells Refinery29. "My response is: 'I want your job.' By the time I'm 55, that's going to be my job. I know what he does, he's a man I have met, and I would accuse him to his face of serious racism. There are a lot of issues there, but I want that job because I can offer quality control...I wonder how he wasn't forced to resign. Then again, that's a spiritual lesson: [his position] has nothing to do with music, artistry, or craftsmanship."
Jennifer Justice, who is currently the president of corporate development for Superfly (which produces Bonnaroo and Outside Lands), and was previously Jay Z's longtime lawyer, was among a group of 16 high-ranking female music industry executives to issue the first call for Portnow's resignation. "I would love the Academy to hire a woman and/or POC to fill the position,” she tells Refinery29. “The Academy needs to represent the diversity of the artists, creators, music business and the fans in general. The voting population is predominantly male, and the Academy is uniquely situated to make a real change and develop programmes to incentivise diversity in all areas of the music business including in the voting process, charitable programmes, and the overall music business."
In conversations held behind the scenes, numerous women in the music industry expressed both relief that Portnow will be moving on and exasperation that he's being allowed to do it on his own terms. A voting veteran of the Academy tells Refinery29 she resigned her membership after his comments, along with a letter explaining why she was offended. Another female Academy member for multiple decades tells Refinery29 that this response is not adequate, expressing a preference for the board to have punished Portnow and for him to have stepped down when he made his offensive comment.
Portnow also recently found himself embroiled in a controversy around MusiCares after Dana Tomarken, a former vice president for the Recording Academy's charitable organisation, accused Portnow of funnelling money from the charity to cover the cost of the 2018 Grammys telecast in a letter to the Academy's board.
The Recording Academy previously announced the formation of a task force on inclusion and diversity that is headed by Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama. The task force is charged with reviewing "operations and policies across the areas of corporate governance, hiring and promotion, membership, awards, and the Grammy Awards telecast."
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