Recording Academy boss Neil Portnow’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year just got a little bit worse: but the important thing about the latest open letter to the beleaguered Grammys boss isn’t so much what it says about him, as what it says about the industry as a whole.
Six prominent industry leaders – Universal Music Group EVP Michele Anthony; UMPG CEO Jody Gerson; Atlantic Records co-chairman Julie Greenwald; Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone; Sony Music general counsel Julie Swidler; and Roc Nation COO Desiree Perez – described the Recording Academy (Naras, to give its full acronym) as “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, society”.
But they also made sure to broaden the debate out beyond Portnow’s ‘step up’ comments that have caused such controversy to the . “Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview. They are, unfortunately, emblematic of a much larger issue with the Naras organisation as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics,” claimed the letter, which was obtained by the New York Times.
Portnow had already announced the creation of a task force to tackle the “explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community”, but the new letter amps up the pressure on the Recording Academy’s board of trustees to ensure that this review is thorough. “As senior music executives with true commitment to the welfare of the organisation and the music community, we hereby put ourselves forward for service”.
It’s notable that the letter did not join calls for Portnow to resign – if it had, given the seniority of the senders and the prominence of their companies, it surely would have been curtains for him. But the bigger picture is the important thing here: the ‘step up’ comments were a symptom of the problems within the industry, and it’s tackling those root problems that will hopefully generate real change for the music business.
If Portnow can use his position to help drive that change, that’s a positive thing. But even if not, Anthony, Gerson, Greenwald, Rhone, Swidler and Perez leading the charge is a welcome development.