Do women need to ‘step up’? Grammy leader sparks de­bate

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - David FRIEND

TORONTO — Cana­dian singer Alessia Cara was the only woman to win one of the ma­jor cat­e­gories at this year’s Grammy Awards, and less than a quar­ter of the 84 tro­phies handed out Sun­day went to ei­ther a woman or group that in­cluded a woman.

But it was back­stage com­ments from the Record­ing Acad­emy’s pres­i­dent that in­flamed crit­ics, who saw this year’s awards show is fur­ther proof that a per­va­sive gen­der im­bal­ance ex­ists in the in­dus­try.

“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 an ex­ec­u­tive level,” Neil Port­now told reporters in the press room af­ter the show on Sun­day.

“(They need) to step up be­cause I think they would be wel­come.”

Sug­gest­ing that women aren’t “step­ping up” in the mu­sic in­dus­try frus­trates Aerin Fo­gel, or­ga­nizer of Toronto-based fem­i­nist arts cel­e­bra­tion Venus Fest. She said she is not sur­prised by the re­ac­tion from the ex­ec­u­tives.

“In a way what he’s (say­ing) rep­re­sents the larger is­sues in the mu­sic in­dus­try - and in most in­dus­tries,” Fo­gel said. “There are real in­her­ent chal­lenges for women to be mov­ing through these struc­tures in the same way as men.”

Back­lash against the Gram­mys over its gen­der dis­par­ity started long be­fore Sun­day’s cer­e­mony. When the nom­i­na­tions were an­nounced in late Novem­ber, many fans were quick to note that ma­jor cat­e­gories were stacked with men.

Ten­sion mounted in the days be­fore the event when Lorde’s mother, Sonja Yelich, tweeted an ex­cerpt from a New York Times ar­ti­cle that said only nine per cent of nom­i­nees were women over the past six Grammy Awards.

Dur­ing the broad­cast sev­eral fe­male artists - in­clud­ing Ke­sha and Lady Gaga - de­liv­ered im­pas­sioned per­for­mances in sol­i­dar­ity with the MeToo move­ment. Nei­ther artist took home a Grammy at the cer­e­mony.

Some have stood be­hind the Gram­mys, say­ing women haven’t been en­tirely left out. Adele won twice for al­bum of the year over that same six-year pe­riod, while Tay­lor Swift grabbed the award once. Meghan Trainor was cho­sen as best new artist in 2016 be­fore Cara this year.

But the wins are still mostly men in those cat­e­gories.

Anne Douris, a Toronto-based musician who per­forms as Bossie, said Grammy fig­ures sug­gest the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pres­i­dent is “tone deaf” on timely is­sues.

“The at­ti­tude of ‘pull up your boot­straps’ is such an easy thing to say,” she said. “Peo­ple in that po­si­tion of power need to be work­ing a lit­tle bit harder to look at this as a com­pli­cated is­sue.”

Be­fore she launched her solo ca­reer, Douris reg­u­larly toured with other bands, in­clud­ing sev­eral Cana­dian rock mu­si­cians.

“I would work on tours where I was the only woman and the en­tire time no­body would shake my hand,” she said. “Peo­ple would as­sume I was some­one’s girl­friend.”

Douris said those mem­o­ries came rush­ing back when she heard ex­ec­u­tives at the Gram­mys sug­gest women work harder to pur­sue in­dus­try roles.

“There’s lots of women work­ing very hard, you’re just not talk­ing to them,” the musician said she wished she could tell the lead­ers.

Grammy win­ner Bar­bara Han­ni­gan said she didn’t face a lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties as a woman when she first started in the mu­sic in­dus­try. As a so­prano, the Nova Sco­tia singer only com­peted for jobs with other women.

“Then when I be­came a con­duc­tor, all the sud­den I was in a male-dom­i­nated field and I started get­ting all these ques­tions about my gen­der,” said Han­ni­gan, who picked up a Grammy for clas­si­cal solo vo­cal al­bum at this year’s awards.

“I don’t want to be con­sid­ered a fe­male con­duc­tor, I want to just be a musician,” she said. “As soon as some­one puts ‘fe­male’ in front of my job, they im­me­di­ately change the fo­cus from my work to my gen­der, which I find kind of frus­trat­ing.”

Han­ni­gan said that while her pri­or­i­ties are fo­cused on cre­at­ing mu­sic of the high­est cal­i­bre, she still ac­knowl­edges that she was raised in a world where fe­male con­duc­tors were put in a box.

“For some rea­son it seemed ab­so­lutely ap­pro­pri­ate for a woman to con­duct a choir but not an or­ches­tra,” she said. “I don’t know why that is. All I know is that I never saw that.”

While she doesn’t dwell on her gen­der, Han­ni­gan rec­og­nizes she is among a rare set of fe­male con­duc­tors. She was re­minded of the fact dur­ing a re­cent per­for­mance for a cou­ple of thou­sand teenagers, many of whom had lit­tle ex­po­sure to clas­si­cal mu­sic.

“That’s amaz­ing be­cause they’re go­ing to sit in the hall and they’re not go­ing to find it strange to see a woman on the podium,” she said.

“In that way, by me just show­ing up – and do­ing what I do the high­est of my abil­ity – this is what’s im­por­tant.”

PHOTO BY CHARLES SYKES/INVISION/AP

Alessia Cara poses in the press room with the best new artist award at the 60th an­nual Grammy Awards at Madi­son Square Gar­den on Sun­day in New York.

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