Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama's Ex-Chief of Staff, Will Help Dismantle Sexism and Racism at the Grammys

Illustration for article titled Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama's Ex-Chief of Staff, Will Help Dismantle Sexism and Racism at the Grammys
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It’s been a particularly tumultuous past few months for the Recording Academy, after its president Neil Portnow made a fool of himself by suggesting women weren’t winning Grammys because they needed to “step up.”


Following his comments, women artists and executives across the industry took Portnow to task, demanding that Portnow resign. The Recording Academy then announced they were setting up an independent task force to “place ourselves under a microscope and tackle whatever truths are revealed.” And now we know who will be leading that task force: Tina Tchen, who previously served as Chief of Staff to former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Billboard reports that Tchen is assembling a 15 to 20 member team, which will include “experts” on diversity in entertainment. The group will be in charge of examining and fixing “the various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities throughout the music industry and, specifically, across Recording Academy operations and policies.” They’ll look at hiring practices, the Grammy Awards itself, and, most importantly, membership, which has up until now been largely a mystery because the Recording Academy does not publicly disclose the gender, race, and age breakdown of its voting body.

That Tchen does not have a music background (though she worked a bit with the Recording Academy through the White House’s “In Performance” series) makes her an unbiased leader to oversee the task force, Neil Portnow argues. Tchen is a partner at the Buckley Sandler LLP law firm, was the executive director of President Barack Obama’s White House Council on Women and Girls, and, in what sounds like music to my ears, she recently helped set up the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Overall, I have high hopes. Tchen seems like someone who will get some real work done at the Recording Academy and, if they’re not going to fire him, school Neil Portnow on how to be quiet and let women run the place.

Hazel Cills is the Pop Culture Reporter at Jezebel. Her writing has been published by outlets including The Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, ELLE, and more.



Ha, after that embarrassing “report” the academy put out, I’m glad he’s doing something real. It’s also heartening to see my female music groups taking all these issues to task. They’ve been hosting more discussions about #metoo, combatting sexism, and supporting each other through personal battles. I joined a pop music maker group recently and immediately left when I saw their white-male-only admins. It also wasn’t surprising to see how incredibly asinine and nasty they were to each other in supposedly “constructive criticism” posts. Women’s groups are the ones that have been truly supportive, encouraging, and constructive.

Also glad to see a fellow AAPI repping in a leadership role.