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Recording Academy President Neil Portnow walks back 'step up' comments on women in music

Portnow said his comments following the Grammy Awards were taken out of context after he was criticized for saying women in the industry need to "step up."
Image: Neil Portnow speaks at the Grammy Awards
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow speaks onstage during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 28, 2018 in New York.Christopher Polk / Getty Images for NARAS
/ Source: The Associated Press

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow on Tuesday claimed his comments following the 60th annual Grammy Awards were taken out of context after he was criticized for saying women in the music industry need to "step up."

Portnow in a statement said he regrettably used the words "step up" and that they were taken out of context and neither convey his beliefs nor the point he was trying to make.

“I think 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 —to step up, because I think they would be welcome,” Neil Portnow told journalists Sunday backstage following the show.

The show had just ended with only two female winners onstage — and Lorde, the only woman nominated in the Album of the Year category, was not asked to perform, although several of her fellow nominees were.

On Tuesday, Portnow tried to step out of the mess he'd made.

"Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced," Portnow said. "We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor and empower them. Our community will be richer for it."

His initial comments after Sunday's awards show in New York angered some female musicians who felt his statements put the responsibility on women.

Pink, who performed on the Grammys, was nominated with three other women in the best pop solo performance category but lost to Ed Sheeran. She wrote on Twitter on Monday that "Women in music don't need to step up — Women have been stepping since the beginning of time."

Katy Perry also chimed in on Twitter to say, "We ALL have a responsibility to call out the absurd lack of equality everywhere we see it. I'm proud of ALL the women making incredible art in the face of continual resistance."

Singer Halsey also weighed in on Twitter, calling Portnow's comments "absurd."

"Female artists came HARD in 2017. But the nominees are selected by peers and their opinion of the music," she said in the post. "Which means it’s a conversation about the standards of which the ENTIRE INDUSTRY expects women to uphold."

Meanwhile, the television audience for Bruno Mars’night of domination at the Grammys was much less robust than music’s big night has seen for nearly a decade — a steep ratings decline of 24 percent from the program a year earlier.

The Nielsen company estimated Monday that 19.8 million people watched the Grammys, compared to 26.1 million last year.

It was the Grammys’ smallest audience since 19 million watched in 2009.