ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Winners of this year's Grammy Awards will be announced Sunday night. Last year, outrage erupted when the president of the Recording Academy, which gives out the Grammys, said women should, quote, "step up" if they wanted to be recognized in the music industry. There were calls for the Recording Academy's president to resign and for changes in the Grammy process, but NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports that the problems in the music business go well beyond the Grammys.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: The road to this year's Grammy Awards show has been bumpy. Yesterday, pop star Ariana Grande, who's up for two awards, announced on Twitter that she won't even attend the ceremony. She'd been slated to perform, but the show's producers reportedly insisted that they would choose her set list. She wanted to make the decision.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "7 RINGS")
ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) Breakfast at Tiffany's and bottles of bubbles, girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble.
TSIOULCAS: It's a lot like last year, when singer Lorde, who was the only female nominee for Album of the Year, was not allowed to perform solo. That was one of the things that led up to Neil Portnow's step up comments. Portnow announced last May that he'll be stepping down this July when his contract expires. He declined NPR's request for an interview. Melinda Newman, West Coast editor of Billboard magazine, says the Recording Academy is just part of a larger issue.
MELINDA NEWMAN: They don't have any jurisdiction. They don't make records themselves. So in some ways, a lot of the hue and cry from Neil Portnow's remarks really are reflective of just the general music industry and the lack of diversity in the general music industry.
TSIOULCAS: The numbers bear Newman's argument out. Women are missing in popular music.
STACY L SMITH: They only represent about 21 percent of all artists.
TSIOULCAS: Stacy L. Smith is the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. Earlier this week, her team released its second annual report about the number of women working in the music industry based on the Billboard Hot 100.
SMITH: Twenty-three percent of the 700 songs in our sample had one of 10 male songwriters attached to them, 23 percent of the songs. So culturally, we're allowing 10 men to set the norms. That really doesn't represent the world that we live in.
TSIOULCAS: Smith says that lack of women's voices really shapes pop music. Katherine Pieper, another Annenberg researcher, says the team interviewed women about working in the business.
KATHERINE PIEPER: They were hit on. They were the object of innuendo. They felt personally unsafe in certain situations. Oftentimes their contributions were ignored or not acknowledged, even dismissed by the people they were working with.
TSIOULCAS: The Grammy organization is hoping that it can emerge from last year's condemnations as a leader. Tina Tchen is a co-founder of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund and was Michelle Obama's chief of staff. Last spring, the Recording Academy asked Tchen to lead its new task force for inclusion and diversity. She's well aware that the music industry stats for women are abysmal.
TINA TCHEN: Of producers in the music industry, only 2 percent are women. Of engineers in the music industry, only 3 percent are women. It's the 21st century, and we're talking about 2 percent of women and 3 percent of women in these key roles in the music industry.
TSIOULCAS: So earlier this month, the Recording Academy announced a new program. It's asking any business or individual who hires record producers or engineers to consider at least two women for any project. Artists who have signed on so far include Cardi B, Post Malone, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande. Even so, Tina Tchen says, bigger shifts are going to take a while.
TCHEN: We have taken decades, if not millennia, to get in this position with respect to how women advance in our broader culture, not just in this industry. So it's going to take us a lot more than one year to solve this issue.
TSIOULCAS: The Recording Academy did expand the number of nominees in its top categories. This year, 5 out of 8 nominees for Album of the Year are women. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.
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