The Complicated Relationship Between #MeToo And The Music Industry

The reckoning

This Sunday, attendees at the Grammy Awards will wear white roses in support of the Time's Up movement. Roc Nation’s Meg Harkins says the rose represents the importance of keeping the conversation about sexual abuse and misconduct in the workplace going, while also providing support for those who do not feel safe. Though this is a good and necessary step, the sexual abuse reckoning that has taken over other creative industries, like film, has had a more complicated presence in the music industry.

"What you have to understand is once an artist signs a record label contract, their entire career is under that label's control," Ali Washington, the CEO of music public relations company Image PR Boutique, says. A record label has the ability to shelve an artist if they choose, stall their momentum, and completely prevent them from releasing any new music should the artist cause trouble by making an unwelcome—and unprofitable—accusation. We saw this with Kesha and her public battle with Sony Music imprint Kemosabe Records. It wasn't until last year that Kesha was granted permission to release new material after coming forward with her story of abuse by Kemosabe's owner, Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald. "Females have been speaking up for years," Washington says. "[But if] she's tied to a record label and someone within that label disrespects her, the label has the power to silence her by stalling her career."

It's because of this that the conversation about sexual abuse has shifted to less traditional channels than a label's HR department; social media has become a vehicle for survivors to share their story. In early 2016, Heathcliff Berru's career as a music publicist was ruined after Amber Coffman, through a series of tweets, accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior. Her story opened the gates for other women to come forward with their own stories of abuse by Berru, including one by Tearist's Yasmine Kittles. Last year, Alice Glass went public with her story of how her former Crystal Castles partner, Ethan Kath, physically, sexually, and emotionally abused her. (Kath denies the allegations.) L.A. Reid and Russell Simmons both resigned from their CEO positions at their record labels following allegations of abuse against them. Brand New's Jesse Lacey openly addressed his history of abuse toward women, too. And, in record time, queer punk duo PWR BTTM's career virtually tanked following multiple people coming forward accusing them of sexual misconduct. 

Beyond these stories coming to light, there have been other movements within the industry demonstrating that women have had enough of men's mistreatment of them. Last year, over 2,000 Swedish female musicians signed an open letter to the Swedish music industry saying they will not be silenced, calling out the catch-22 of possible termination from a label following any public accusations. "The people in power in the industry—it’s your responsibility to make sure that no one is sexually vulnerable at the workplace, and you have failed," it reads.

Australian musicians, too, have written a similar open letter calling on the Australian music industry to do better. "In the face of uncountable discrimination, harassment, violence, and the general menace of sexist jargon, we have gritted our teeth and gotten on with the job," it says. "But today we say, no more."

Hopefully, Sunday's white rose demonstration has the power to galvanize the movement within the music industry. Positive change will not come solely from individuals speaking out, but also from record labels stepping up and listening to their artists, putting victims' safety before dollar signs.