It was five years ago when former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow told journalists backstage at the Grammys in 2018 that women needed to “step up” for their representation at the show after only men won out in the major categories. Phoebe Bridgers hasn’t forgotten.
“I have something to say about women,” Bridgers said after Rolling Stone asked her and her fellow Boygenius members Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus about women shaping the future of rock music when they came to the Grammy press room. “The ex-president of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, said that if women want to be nominated and win Grammys that they should ‘step up.’ He’s also been accused of sexual violence. To him I’d like to say: I know you’re not dead yet, but when you are, rot in piss.’”
As Dacus added: “I think that’s pretty rock and roll.”
As Bridgers referenced, Portnow faces allegations of sexual assault dating back to June 2018. An anonymous Jane Doe accuser filed a suit claiming that Portnow drugged and raped her in a New York hotel room months after the two met. The accuser also sued the Academy, alleging that the organization “aided and abetted Portnow’s conduct to protect their reputations and silence Plaintiff’s and other women in the music industry who have stood up and spoken up.”
Last week, Bridgers told The Associated Press that “it was only a couple of years ago now that that (expletive) who is now being accused of sexual violence said women need to step it up if they want to be nominated.”
A rep for Portnow denied the allegations at the time, calling them “completely false.” A rep for the Recording Academy told Rolling Stone at the time that “we continue to believe the claims to be without merit and intend to vigorously defend the Academy in this lawsuit.”
Portnow wasn’t the only former Grammy head accused of sexual assault in recent months. His predecessor Mike Greene was also sued in December, with former colleague Terri McIntyre alleging that he assaulted her multiple times.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times this week, former Recording Academy attorney Joel Katz — who was honored at a Grammy event this week — had offered McIntyre a $1 million payout to silence her.
While the Academy’s toxic past continues to resurface, this year did represent a significant change from Portnow’s comments in 2018. While only one woman won in the Big Four that year — Alessia Cara for Best New Artist — it was an entirely women-led sweep this year as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Victoria Monet and Billie Eilish cleaned up. And in rock in particular, Boygenius took best rock performance, rock song and alternative album. Paramore, led by Hayley Williams, took alternative music performance and best rock album, beating out legends like Metallica and Foo Fighters in the process.