Linda Perry — who is the first woman nominated for non-classical producer of the year at the Grammys in 15 years — discusses Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow’s “step up” comments and producing for Adele and Christina Aguilera in outtakes from a recent interview with The Associated Press. Read the interview here.
NEIL PORTNOW AND STEPPING UP
It’s been a year since Grammys leader Neil Portnow famously said that women need to “step up” when a reporter asked him about the low number of women winning Grammys during the 2018 telecast.
Drama ensued, and Portnow was lambasted for the comments, which he said were taken out of context. He eventually announced he would be leaving his post at the Grammys, which he has had since 2002.
But Perry said Portnow’s words were misunderstood.
“He was trying to say, ‘Step up’ — meaning, the door’s wide open. (Expletive) step up, come up running through. The world is your (expletive) oyster right now. Come claim what is rightfully yours,” Perry said. “Unfortunately, his words and his posture weren’t reading properly.”
“Women were thinking, ‘Step up? What are you talking about you (expletive) douchebag? We’ve been stepping up. It’s your (expletive) that’s putting us down.’ That’s how they took that,” she added. “I really truly believe Neil didn’t mean to say that like that. I know him. I know he did not think that. But hey, guess what? You know what happened? It really put their old school academy ways into shape.”
Since the debacle, the academy launched a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity headed by Tina Tchen, the former chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama. This year’s nominations in top categories include more women than last year.
“The Recording Academy fights for artists, they always have fought for diversity. They’ve always fought for the songwriter and the artist, making sure we’re getting taken care of, we’re getting paid the highest royalty that we can,” Perry said. “So what this is did, this terrible, terrible mishap to their name, made them really have to go in there and dig deeper like, ‘What else can we do?’ That’s what they’ve been focusing on.”
STILL SOUNDS ‘BEAUTIFUL’
Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” became a worldwide anthem for acceptance when the song, and its epic video, was released in 2002.
Perry, who wrote and produced the track, said she still smiles when she hears the song or if someone brings it up.
“I’ll be in the store grocery shopping with my son and ‘Beautiful’ will come on … and I’m just like, ‘It’s mommy’s song,'” she said. “It doesn’t get old.”
The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won Aguilera the Grammy for best female pop vocal performance. It was also nominated for song of the year but lost to Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father.”
“I’m very humble. Maybe that’s what it is, and that’s my drive, and that’s what keeps me doing what I do. The last thing I would ever want to be is someone that says, ‘Ugh, that song again.’ Could you imagine?” she said. “Even ‘What’s Up?’ I’ve played that song a bazillion (expletive) times, but every single time, I just try to create a different emotion of excitement based on the audience — they feed you everything you need to know.”
WE ARE HEAR
Perry’s company We Are Hear focuses on publishing, management, licensing, recording, production and more, with the goal of giving musicians artistic freedom unlike some major record labels.
“We don’t care about the numbers. I could give a (expletive) if you have two followers or two million,” said Perry, adding that it’s “ridiculous that labels even consider that when deciding to sign somebody.”
“Do you understand that just because they have two million followers doesn’t mean they’re going to sell two million records?” she said.
Instead, Perry said she and partner Kerry Brown are focused on signing artists “that are going to be artists today, tomorrow, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.”
“We sign ‘lifers,'” she continued. “What I’m not looking for are YouTube sensations that woke up in the morning, grabbed their guitar, played three chords of someone else’s song and got two million views and now they think they’re eligible to get a record deal. We’re not interested in that.”
Adele’s “25” album was a masterpiece that sold 10 million albums in a year when most artists have trouble selling one million.
The album that won Adele her second album-of-the-year Grammy included production work by Perry, though some may not know it.
Perry worked on a bonus track, “Can’t Let Go,” for the album’s Target edition. Had the song been on the original album, Perry would have won a Grammy alongside Adele and producers like Bruno Mars, Ryan Tedder and Greg Kurstin.
“She is such an incredible artist and creative songwriter. It was an honor. I was so like, ‘Holy (expletive)! Adele wants to be the studio with me? Great!'” Perry said.
“I just let her be herself and take it from there. Someone like her, you don’t want to step in. That’s the other part about being a producer that you have to understand. Even when I’m writing, I’m being a producer, because I know when to chime in and I know when not to. Ego gets in the way of a lot of people,” Perry added. “Let the artist be the artist right now. … I don’t go in looking for my 50 percent, or my songwriting credit, at all. I just go in like, ‘What can I do to be of service to this artist?'”