In the days after the Grammy Awards, some griping about the winners can always be expected, with debates in recent years focusing on racial diversity and the institution’s relationship with hip-hop.

But following the 60th annual Grammys on Sunday, two words uttered backstage by Neil Portnow, the president of the Recording Academy, ignited a controversy that has drawn rebukes from some of the most powerful women in music at a particularly fraught time, amid the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against harassment and professional inequality.

Asked about the gender representation among winners on the televised portion of the awards, during which just one woman was given a solo Grammy, Mr. Portnow told reporters that “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” need to “step up.” The comments, first reported by Variety, spread quickly online and gave a viral push to the budding hashtag #GrammysSoMale.

In a handwritten note posted to Twitter on Monday, the pop singer Pink, who performed on Sunday, wrote: “Women in music don’t need to ‘step up’ — women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside.” She added: “Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this.”

Katy Perry, who was not nominated and did not appear at this year’s Grammys, reposted Pink’s statement, adding: “I’m proud of ALL the women making incredible art in the face of continual resistance.”

In a statement sent to The New York Times on Tuesday, Mr. Portnow clarified the comments, which he said were taken out of context and “do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make.”

“Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced,” he said. “We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor and empower them. Our community will be richer for it.”

“I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought,” Mr. Portnow added. “I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer and more representative place for everyone.”

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