Hollywood is very much touched by the #MeToo movement. In the wake of the 2018 Grammy Awards, the music industry has finally begun to shed light on its similarly troublesome past.
After months of anticipating a catalyst to start the conversation about sexual assault and abuse in the music industry, a caucus of female music executives called for the president of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, to step down after making pointed comments about women at the awards and telling reporters that women must step up to advance their careers. In response, the Recording Academy announced that it was establishing an independent task force to examine the institution and “overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”
This comment came only days after the release of a study conducted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on female inclusion in the recording industry, which illustrated that, over the past six years, an average of only 12.3 percent of songwriters were female, while only 9.3 percent of Grammy nominees from 2013 to 2018 were female.
From its conception, the music world has systematically encouraged the sexualization of women – a concept further championed by the act of artist competition. In an industry that thrived on the fantastical notion of the slogan “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” for so long, sexual assault not only ran rampant but was a manifestation of these ideals.
Industry whistleblower Bob Lefsetz has recently been calling out members of the music establishment with his newsletter. His stories recount the tales of women who were encouraged to dress provocatively and then endured unwelcome touching, were subject to emotional and verbal abuse, and were told that sleeping with superiors was part of the job and necessary for advancement. When reporting these accounts to human resources, these women were either ignored or dismissed as overreacting. Several were forever blacklisted from the industry for stirring up trouble.
“The #MeToo movement reaches all areas of music, as it reaches all areas of our society,” Marilyn C. Nonken, the director of Piano Studies at Steinhardt told WSN. “Sexism, misogyny and abuse of power are not genre-specific or unique to any one field. Great talents – James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera is just one example – are often permitted tremendous leeway in their personal behavior.”
While the Grammys opened up the floodgate for discussion, allegations against dozens of top names in music have been well underway, from independent artists to industry executives. Over a dozen women are calling out Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons for sexual assault, with accusations spanning decades against the so-called “Grandfather of Hip-Hop.”
Republic Records President Charlie Walk is being investigated while the head of Epic Records L.A. Reid was forced to step down. Jon Heely, the director of Music Publishing at Disney, was charged with sexual abuse of minors. It was also discovered that Berklee College of Music – the alma mater of many superstars, like John Mayer and Steven Tyler – has recently fired 11 faculty members for sexual assault over the past 13 years.
The issue even made its way to NYU when this past semester, Steinhardt Adjunct Professor Bradley Garner, who is also a world renowned flutist, was fired from the university for allegations of sexual misconduct which surfaced from his former position at the University of Cincinnati.
Yet, while industry officials can step down or take a leave of absence, musicians alleged of sexual assault or abuse still leave their art behind. Just as film buffs are left questioning whether or not Weinstein-produced films like “Shakespeare in Love” can be stomached, fans of artists such as Crystal Castles, Brand New and R. Kelly are left questioning whether or not it is ethical to keep these artists on their playlist.
After Buzzfeed published yet another investigation on R. Kelly, one in a string of allegations of misconduct throughout his career, public outcry led Live Nation to cancel his tour. However, he was not dropped by his label or publisher, and his catalog lives on Spotify, YouTube and other streaming platforms, slowly collecting money while the heat on him cools.
“People will be so dedicated to the music [that], after a certain point, nothing can really change that,” CAS first-year Cat Garcia said. “If an artist is new to the scene or newly popular, it’s a lot easier for fans to abandon the music in support of victims and condemnation of the artist’s actions because there is less of an attachment to the music.”
Less than a week before the 2018 Grammy Awards, “a grassroots music industry analog to Hollywood’s anti-sexual harassment movement” sprung up, serving as a beacon of hope to those seeking change within the industry. Voices In Entertainment, formed by music executives Meg Harkins and Karen Rait, urged Grammy attendees to wear white roses to show support for “equal representation in the workplace, for leadership that reflects the diversity of our society, workplaces free of sexual harassment and a heightened awareness of accountability.”
A-list names like Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar and P!nk donned white roses in solidarity. And, while displaying roses at ceremonies doesn’t serve as a clear-cut solution to stopping assault in the confines of the industry, awareness is being spread. For the first time, men and women are finally being encouraged to speak out, and only through communication may the toxicity of abuse finally be purged from the music community.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 5 print edition. Email Nicole Rosenthal at [email protected]