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Neil Portnow on stage at the Grammys

Trying to Understand What's Going on at the Recording Academy is a Mystery

Gettyimages | ROBYN BECK
By Robert Safir

Deborah Dugan, the newly appointed CEO of the Grammys, was put on leave recently and then fired from the Recording Academy. She had a host of accusations against Neil Portnow, the previous CEO of the Grammys, and also had a lot to say about corruption in the Recording Academy's voting process. Where the truth is in all of that is a true mystery.

If we rewind to the 2018 Grammys, you might identify one key moment that set a lot of their current problems in motion.

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Step Up? No, You Sit Down

Neil Portnow of the Recording Academy
Gettyimages | ROBYN BECK

There was a lack of women winners at the 2018 Grammys. What was it that CEO Neil Portnow said at the 2018 Grammys that caused a stir?

“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… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome."

Oops! You don't address issues of equality for women - who have been fighting hard to rise to the top - creating incredible music along the way - by asking them to "Step Up." They've been working like crazy - for years - to create great music, to be heard, to be seen as equals in a male-dominated industry.

Internal Feuding and Chaos

Deborah Dugan - most recent CEO of the Recording Academy.
Gettyimages | John Lamparski

The "Step up" statement ignited a flurry of negative reactions and calls for Portnow to step down as CEO of the organizaton. He faced other problems when Dana Tomarken claimed that Portnow used money intended for the Academy's charity for struggling musicians to offset losses associated with January's Grammy Awards broadcast. She also made accusations of "workplace abuse and harassment."

On May 31, 2018, Portnow announced his resignation at CEO from he Academy, effective in July of 2019. But that wasn't the end of his problems. Portnow had been accused of raping a female artist by his successor, Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan, who eventually was placed on an administrative leave herself.

Flying Accusations

Group photo including Deborah Dugan, Alecia Keys, Gale King, etc.
Gettyimages | Jamie McCarthy

Deborah Dugan became a flashpoint for several crisis that ensured. She accused its top lawyers of acting inappropriately toward her during a business meeting, resulting in her filing a discrimination suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.Dugan claimed that Portnow "allegedly raped a female recording artist."

Dugan also claimed that there were improprieties in the voting process for the Grammys, and that a “secret committee” decides who gets Grammy nominations. She claimed that this committee consisted of people with business and personal relationships with artists, and that they push their favorites ahead.

Ultimately, Not a Good Fit for Either Party

Giphy | Blindspot

Deborah Dugan also claimed that the Academy pressured her to rehire Neil Portnow as a consultant, to the tune of a $750,000 salary, but that she wouldn't do it.

Dugan was placed on administrative leave after only six months on the job. And as of today, Deborah Dugan has been fired by the Academy, who stated that this decision came after “two exhaustive, costly independent investigations”into her allegations. But the Academy concluded that the problem was with Dugan, and that a multitude of academy staff members had filed serious complaints against her.

Deborah Dugan's response was "Is anyone surprised that its purported investigations did not include interviewing me or addressing the greater claims of conflicts of interest and voting irregularities?"

It's hard to know for certain who to believe in all of this. The story line dovetails nicely into the rumors of bribes and kickbacks in the record industry as well as a history of tainted dealings. But it's also hard to completely ignore the complaints Dugan filed against the Recording Academy. Finally, to say that this position was not a good fit for Dugan - or the Recording Academy - seems like a huge understatement at this point.

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