Filed under Entertainment, Op-Ed

Time’s Up, Recording Academy

The 60th Grammy Awards were an ugly reminder of sexism in music

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The Grammys should’ve been Kesha’s moment.  After a long, public legal battle against her former producer Dr. Luke, who she claims raped and abused her, she made a comeback under a new contract in 2017.  Her album Rainbow was a triumph, and its successful lead single “Praying” was a powerful statement about the trauma she endured.  She and four other female artists were nominated for the Best Pop Solo Performance award.  They all lost to Ed Sheeran.

“Praying” was a Grammy-worthy song no matter the context.  But a win for Kesha would’ve meant more than kudos from the Recording Academy—it would’ve been a timely victory for the #MeToo movement and survivors of sexual abuse.  Her loss to Sheeran was a reminder that the Recording Academy remains stubbornly out-of-touch, perennially preferring inoffensive fluff to impact and substance, especially when that substance comes from a woman.

Over the past five years, only 9.3% of Grammy nominees have been women.  This year, Lorde was the only female nominee for the prestigious Album of the Year award.  (She lost, of course, to Bruno Mars.)  She was also the only AOTY nominee who wasn’t asked to perform solo on the Grammy stage.  When asked why Lorde didn’t have a set, producer Ken Ehrlich said that “there’s no way we can really deal with everybody,” although he found room in the three-and-a-half-hour show for two Broadway tributes and multiple performances by the likes of U2, Sting, and Shaggy.  Recording Academy president Neil Portnow suggested that women in the industry “step up” if they want to be recognized.

Ellie Klee
Women in music are often overlooked in a male-dominated industry, even though iconic artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Adele have proved that they can sell just as many records as any man.

Such flippant sexism by Recording Academy executives reflects a harmful culture in the music industry at large.  Abusers in Hollywood face career-ending repercussions for their actions thanks to the Time’s Up revolution.  Yet Justin Timberlake, Kodak Black, XXXTentacion, R. Kelly, Dr. Dre, Nelly, and many other high-profile musicians comtinue to enjoy success despite allegations of sexual misconduct.  Robin Thicke’s infamous “Blurred Lines,” a 2013 single that reviewers called “rapey,” was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for twelve weeks.  Women who work behind the scenes in the music industry are patronized, oversexualized, or shut out by their male peers.  Female artists are held to a glaring double standard.  When Taylor Swift writes albums about her ex-boyfriends, she’s dismissed as whiny and attention-seeking.  When Ed Sheeran does the same, he’s hailed as raw and relatable.

If Neil Portnow wants to tout his industry as diverse and culturally relevant, he should start acknowledging women’s contributions to music.  It’s not the women that need to “step up”— it’s the Recording Academy.

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Time’s Up, Recording Academy