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Grammys vow to tackle gender bias amid resignation calls

[NEW YORK] The chief of the body that hands out the Grammys vowed Thursday to do more to tackle gender bias as he faced calls to resign over his contentious explanation on why more women weren't winning.

The Recording Academy, which is comprised of 13,000 music professionals who vote on the industry's most prestigious prizes, said it was setting up an independent task force to address gender issues.

The task force will "review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community," the Academy's president and CEO, Neil Portnow, said in a statement.

"We will also place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed," he said.

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Portnow, a music producer and label executive who has headed the Recording Academy since 2002, caused a furor on Sunday in a customary press appearance at the close of the awards.

Portnow said that the music industry needed to show a "welcome mat" to women and increase mentorship to new professionals - and he raised eyebrows as he explained how female artists could win more awards.

"I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls who want to be musicians... to step up, because I think they would be welcome," Portnow told reporters at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Pop singers Katy Perry and P!nk were among the prominent women who took Portnow to task for his remarks.

Just as Portnow was announcing the task force, nearly two dozen women executives in music called on him to resign.

Using the language of the growing movement against gender discrimination and harassment, they wrote in their open letter, "Time's up, Neil." His remarks at the Grammys "do not constitute recognition of women's achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to 'welcome' women," they wrote.

"We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves." Signatories included Carla Sacks, the founder of the prominent public relations firm Sacks and Co, and pop star Pharrell Williams' manager Caron Veazey.

They cited a recent University of Southern California study that found that men accounted for more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees - who include not only performers but songwriters, engineers and others in the business - between 2013 and 2018.

Portnow, revisiting his remarks in his latest statement, said "I understand the hurt" caused by "my poor choice of words".

"I also now realise that it's about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women," he said.

Only one woman, Lorde, was nominated for the most prestigious Grammy of Album of the Year at the latest awards and none were in the running for Record of the Year, which recognises best song.

Funk revivalist Bruno Mars won in both categories.

The Grammys rallied behind the #MeToo movement through an intense performance by Kesha, who sang her autobiographical song "Praying" about her alleged rape by her producer.

But "Praying" lost out for Best Pop Solo Performance to the only man among the five nominees in the category - Ed Sheeran for "Shape of You" about a drunken hook-up with a woman he meets in a bar.

The year, however, was not entirely representative. Adele won Album of the Year in 2017 and Taylor Swift took the top prize the year before.

Swift's latest album came out too late for eligibility while Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, major forces in past years, enjoyed less acclaim with their most recent works.

AFP

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