Sexual abuse and intimidation have become commonplace in most industries but particularly in entertainment. In light of the ‘Me Too’ movement, many claims have been made against some of the most powerful people in the industry yet, not much has been done. The ‘Me Too’ movement came to prominence following numerous allegations against Hollywood executive producer Harvey Weinstein which served as a watershed moment. Countless women and men have since come forward in every industry to call out abusive and predatory behaviour from those in positions of power, and the music industry is no exception. Several music executives and artists have faced allegations of sexual abuse and harassment since the rise of the ‘Me Too’ movement. From Russell Simmons, Charlie Walker and LA Reid to R Kelly, Ryan Adams, and Nelly. Unfortunately, the accusations have had little legal consequences and therefore have affected little change.
A high-profile case preceding the popular rise of the ‘Me Too’ movement was that of Kesha and producer Dr Luke, whose record label she is signed to. In 2014, Kesha sued Dr Luke in an attempt to void her contracts with him, as she alleged that he “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused” her. Dr Luke countersued shortly after. Kesha’s appeal was dismissed by the judge who deemed the claims insufficient to constitute “extreme, outrageous conduct intolerable in civil society.” From dismissals to settlements, this is how it usually goes for powerful men who continue to excel in their careers with few consequences.
R Kelly was recently charged with sexually abusing four females, three of whom were underage at the time of the alleged crimes. From his 1994 marriage to 15-year-old singer Aaliyah, to the 2002 child pornography charges and now this; Kelly has a long history as an alleged abuser. Yet his career has managed to survive thanks to his loyal fan base. Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams has faced multiple allegations so far this year from female musicians he was involved with both romantically and professionally. Women like his ex-wife Mandy Moore and musician Phoebe Bridgers, have accused Adams of emotional manipulation, wielding his influence in the music industry over them to get what he wants. No legal action has been taken against him and while he has cancelled some gigs following the accusations, he will likely emerge unblemished from the situation, as most of us will forget about it.
There are many possible reasons for this toxic behaviour, including the lack of women in power to change the hedonistic, sexist environment of the industry. Female representation has historically been poor and despite some positive growth in the area, the figures still remain overwhelmingly unequal. An undeniable factor at play here is the gender bias against women in a culture which prevents women from succeeding and overcoming injustice. According to Billboard’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the music industry, only 17% were female, up from 10% in 2017. This is encouraging but women still have a long way to go until they’re on equal footing. The corporate world of the music industry is dominated by male executives like Jimmy Lovine, David Geffen and LA Reid. Women like Julie Greenwald, COO of Atlantic Records and Ethiopia Habtemariam, President of Motown Records are paving the way for women at the top, but the industry remains a boys’ club for now.
The dismissal and disbelief of sexual abuse allegations in the music industry is no doubt perpetuated by our sexist culture. From misogynistic rap and pop lyrics (think Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines), to the use of women as props in music videos, sexual abuse and objectification of women has been normalised. Frank Benton of SHS University conducted research on the topic finding that throughout popular music videos, “misogynistic scripts are continually being produced that reinforce stereotyped misogynistic expectations by both men and women”. This is most prevalent in hip-hop. In the 100 most popular music videos on YouTube in 2014, there were 137 instances of misogyny in Hip-Hop videos. These misogynistic displays are a product of our society but are now adding fuel to the fire, furthering the distrust and objectification of women.
Misogyny, sexual abuse and intimidation in the music industry are common but clearly, extremely harmful both to the victims and the audience. The music industry is merely a microcosm of society at large; reflecting our patriarchal norms. The industry self-perpetuates these problems through its power structures and messages portrayed in its art. It’s a vicious cycle. Something needs to change, but what? Consumers and executives alike must take action. Consumers can have considerable power by choosing who to give their money to. Equally, there needs to be a radical overhaul of the industry from within, purging its predators and abusers. Change is possible but only if we call for it.