But while race has been a growing problem for years, the Grammys’ most urgent issue is over gender. Last year, a report by the University of Southern California, released days before the show, found dismal numbers about the representation of women in the music industry and at the Grammys. Lorde, the only woman nominated for album of the year in 2018, was not offered a solo performance slot.
After the show, Portnow’s “step up” comment drew an immediate outcry, with some women music executives calling for his resignation. (Portnow said at the time that his words had been taken out of context, and later announced that would leave his position at the expiration of his contract in July.)
In response, the Recording Academy appointed a task force, led by Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, to “identify the various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities” at the academy and in the wider industry.
Working with the task force, the academy has tried to make its voting pool more diverse, inviting 900 new people, from a variety of backgrounds, to be members; of those, 22 percent accepted in time to vote this year, according to Laura Segura Mueller, the academy’s vice president of membership and industry relations. Last week the task force challenged the music industry to hire more producers and engineers, two jobs that are overwhelmingly male.
Even with these steps, this year’s nominations show just how much work is left to achieve real gender parity. On the eight songs up for record of the year, a total of 48 producers and engineers were credited, and only two were female.
One of them is Lady Gaga, as a producer of “Shallow,” her song with Bradley Cooper from “A Star Is Born,” which is a strong contender for both record and song of the year. Lady Gaga is scheduled to perform, but that night Cooper will be at the Baftas, the British film awards. (Taylor Swift, who is up for just one award, pop vocal album, is also in London, filming an adaptation of “Cats,” and is not expected to attend the show.)