Instead, much of "music's biggest night," as the Recording Academy likes to refer to its annual ceremony, was dedicated to safe, familiar presences — including performances by U2, Sting and Shaggy — but there were moments when the conversations of today peeked out into view. (Dave Chapelle, mid-Kendrick Lamar set: "The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.")
Over the course of the three-and-a-half hour telecast, only one solo female musician accepted an award on screen: Alessia Cara, who was awarded Best New Artist.
Conversations about gender equality and alleged sexual misconduct were, aside from the white roses pinned to the lapels and dresses of many attendees, mostly shoehorned into a single segment of the televised ceremony. It began with a fiery introduction from singer and actress Janelle Monae, who declared: "We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those of you who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time's up."
What followed was an anthemic performance of "Praying" led by Kesha, who was joined by Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Bebe Rexha, Julia Michels, Andra Day and the Resistance Revival Chorus. And then, it was back to Bono.
A number of high-profile allegations of sexual assault or misconduct have emerged from the recording industry, and many female musicians have added their stories to the #MeToo movement. But those accusations haven't reverberated as widely, or had such earth-shaking repercussions as similar allegations have had in Hollywood, for example.
NARAS has no jurisdiction over the wider music industry, but it is perhaps the closest approximation of a confederation of recording industry professionals; it's both a banner-carrier and a microcosm of the larger business. And in the week that has followed the Grammy Awards, fans, artists and other women in the music industry have made public their frustration with The Recording Academy.
The blowback began to build after audiences noted that the singer Lorde — the sole woman nominated for the Album of the Year prize — did not perform on the telecast. Immediately following the awards ceremony, the trade publication Variety asked both the Recording Academy's president and CEO, Neil Portnow, and the telecast's producer, Ken Ehrlich, about Lorde's absence.
Ehrlich argued to Variety that there just wasn't time to include Lorde as a solo performer. "These shows are a matter of choices," Ehrlich said. "We have a box and it gets full," he said, adding, "There's no way we can really deal with everybody."
Portnow has headed the Recording Academy since 2002; he replaced Michael Greene, who was forced to resign from NARAS after allegations that he sexually harassed and abused another Academy executive surfaced. (According to The New York Times, NARAS trustees reportedly paid the woman who accused him a $650,000 settlement, and then hired a private investigator to examine Greene's behavior with female colleagues.) Around the same time, the Los Angeles Times also ran an investigative series examining the Recording Academy's finances, and asserted that NARAS' charitable arm, MusiCares, spent less than 10 percent of its fund-raised income on assisting artists.
Portnow — who sported a #TimesUp white rose in his lapel during this year's telecast — made comments to Variety that proved perhaps even more infuriating to many women. "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 the executive level," he said. And in a phrase that became infamous immediately, Portnow added that women need "to step up because I think they would be welcome."
Some prominent female musicians, like nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow, three-time winner Kelly Clarkson and Charli XCX, have used social media to communicate their feelings. On Jan. 30, Pink, another three-time Grammy winner who performed her ballad "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" on this year's telecast, posted a note on Twitter that spoke directly to Portnow's "step up" comment, without addressing Portnow himself.