By Erin Caine
This year’s Grammy Awards stirred up many viewers’ disapproval and frustration when it seemed that an inordinate amount of female recording artists were being overlooked across categories.
Fans’ outrage was only magnified when Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow, told journalists backstage that “it has to begin with women […] who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level.”
He added that it was women’s responsibility to “step up,” which prompted many to question whether or not it was instead the Academy’s responsibility to acknowledge female talent.
Grammy-winning artist Pink posted a handwritten response to Portnow, in which she said: “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’—women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside.”
Also raising some eyebrows that night was the fact that Lorde was the only Album of the Year nominee who didn’t perform on the Grammy stage, and additionally was the only woman nominated for that category. Her own response to the Grammys controversy was a letter thanking fans for “believing in female musicians” and “set[ting] a beautiful precedent.”
Arguably the most contentious debate, however, was about SZA, a breakout female artist who didn’t take home any awards from the five categories in which she was nominated. SZA’s 2017 debut, “Ctrl,” was one of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums, and many felt that she was wrongly overlooked by the Academy. Alessia Cara, who beat out SZA for Best New Artist, was the only woman to win in a major category that night.
Some have pushed back against Grammy criticism by claiming that this year’s noticeable lack of female winners hasn’t been the trend over the last few years. They’ve observed that the previous winners of Album Of The Year were both women, Adele and Taylor Swift. (Swift and Adele have, in fact, won Album Of The Year two times each.)
Then again, a woman of color hasn’t won Album Of The Year since Nora Jones in 2003, and not since Lauryn Hill’s win in 1999 has an African-American woman taken home the award. Beyoncé has been nominated in the category three times and has yet to snag a win of her own.
Additionally, because of a recent surge in activism to shed light on sexual harassment of women in the workplace, many are left feeling acutely aware of the inequality and abuse that women face in their professional lives. The Academy seemingly marginalizing female musicians appears to only be an unfortunate extension of these issues.
Portnow has since apologized for his statements, saying that his “poor choice of words” did not reflect his belief that the issue of gender bias in the music industry needed to be addressed, and that he shared in “the urgency to attack [bias] head-on.”
Portnow’s previous implication, however—that it lies solely with women to correct inequality and gender-based biases—continues to make ripples across social media. Studies have found that in the last six Grammy Awards, only around 9 percent of the nominees have been women. In the struggle against injustice, the 91 percent could stand to speak out against bias in the Grammys, as well.