The Faltering Men Behind the Grammys’ Curtain

As the Grammys dragged into their fourth hour on Sunday night, the storied music producer Jimmy Jam told the audience it was time to pay tribute to yet another titan of music. Dolly Parton had already presided over her own medley and Diana Ross had thrown herself a birthday bash; Aretha Franklin’s memorial was still to come. The recipient of the next fête, rather, would be Neil Portnow, the bespectacled, white-bearded, 71-year-old who has routinely bored Grammys audiences since he became Recording Academy president in 2002.

It’s Portnow’s last year in his run as the longest-acting chief in Grammys history. So, after a montage about the Recording Academy’s good works—museums, charities, concerts, opportunities for Portnow to pose with Barbra Streisand—another montage had musicians rave about Portnow’s tenure. Céline Dion bid bon voyage. Chick Corea said, “You’ve helped us keep the music fires burning bright” and played a piano riff. Then it was Portnow’s turn to talk, which he did for longer than any musician’s acceptance speech.

It was a lot of time devoted to a bureaucrat, and Slate, helpfully, has put together a gallery of more Portnow content for the precisely zero people who were left asking for it. This was not just any insider indulgence though; it was an attempt to polish a damaged image. More and more, when it comes to the well-publicized flaws of the Grammys—and really of gatekeeping institutions of all sorts—public scrutiny is turning toward the behind-the-scenes types who’ve called the shots for extreme lengths of time.

Portnow found himself in pop-culture controversy in 2016, when Kanye West requested a meeting about making the Grammys more “relevant,” which is partly to say, more inclusive of hip-hop, a genre that hasn’t won an Album of the Year award since 2004. Portnow said he was game to collaborate, but he also gave interviews in which he made statements like, “No, I don’t think there’s a race problem at all” with the Grammys. West hasn’t attended the ceremony since then, and it wasn’t until 2019—the first show after long-overdue expansions were made to the Academy’s voting body—that a rapper (Childish Gambino) won Song of the Year or Record of the Year.

But Portnow only became a true celebrity bête noire when, after the 2018 Grammys telecast gave out just one trophy to a female artist, he said it was up to women to “step up”

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture

      

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