The music business is guilty. Guilty of sexism, guilty of shielding harassment, guilty of an old-(white) boy network that has deep and seemingly intractable roots. It would be pointless to pretend otherwise.
The behavior and attitudes represented by this fraternity aren’t all-encompassing; plenty of people in the business have long fought against them. Still, these old-boy traits remain defining characteristics of some parts of our business.
It would also be wrong to suggest that these conditions evolved in a vacuum. They can be found in every sector—Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Washington D.C. and Madison Avenue. They are vestiges of systemic inequality, when women and people of color were legally—or at the very least practically—accorded the status of property….Crucial to that change is the #MeToo movement, which entered the mainstream as part of the larger uprising of women most conspicuously evidenced by the massive worldwide women’s marches of 2017 and 2018.
Then there is #TimesUp, which is not about chronicling past wrongs but preventing future ones.
These threads came together, in our demimonde, at the Grammys, which reflected both the gathering voice of women’s protest and the obstacles to change….
Those obstacles are both institutional and attitudinal. Male domination in the boardroom is matched by male domination on the charts. Only six female artists made the overall Top 50 of 2017; only 10% of the Top 50 tours of 2017 were by female acts (half as many as in 2016). While more than half the acts on the year-end 2017 Top 40 Pop radio chart were female (or had a key female performer), Rhythm had seven such acts—and the Country and Alternative radio charts fewer than 10%.
A recent Annenberg study, meanwhile, found that women received less than 10% of the most recent Grammy nominations. As has been reiterated with considerable fervor since Grammy night, only one female artist accepted an award during the telecast—and the only female Album of the Year nominee wasn’t given a spot to perform.
Which is part of why Neil Portnow’s ill-advised comment about women needing to “step up” became such a flashpoint, turning the Recording Academy boss into a walking example of the problem; thus the letter from female industryites demanding he step down, and a subsequent missive from six top-level biz women insisting that he implement serious changes. His words represented a status quo that is increasingly out of touch with the direction of the biz and the culture.
The response to his words from a number of industry professionals—notably, “The Six,” aka Jody Gerson, Michele Anthony, Julie Swidler, Sylvia Rhone, Julie Greenwald and Desiree Perez—is chronicled elsewhere in this issue, and is far more eloquent than we could hope to be.
For the music world, the Grammys thus became a point of inflection, thanks to the perfect storm of the repressive Trump-era climate—with the government’s unapologetic embrace of injustice and prejudice—and the post-Harvey Weinstein eruption of the #MeToo movement, which many had been expecting to reach the music industry for some time.
THE NEW LEADERS
In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of a wave of new, young leaders, many of them women and many people of color, who are clearly ready to break with the excesses of the past. Leaders whose hiring and policy choices are changing the culture.
This is happening in all sectors, no matter how many old (white) boys run amok.
Our own business is seeing profound growth in female leadership. Women are running major companies, piloting artists’ careers and plenty more—and refocusing the cultural conversation via activism. A young, diverse wave is coming, and it will in all likelihood alter the dynamics across the biz.