ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Col­lage by SIDUATIONS Edited by HAN­NAH NATHANSON

Kieran Yates in­ves­ti­gates the #MeToo move­ment in the mu­sic in­dus­try

It was a move­ment that rocked Hol­ly­wood and beyond, lay­ing bare the im­bal­ance of power. But how far has the mu­sic in­dus­try come in fac­ing up to its own reck­on­ing? Kieran Yates tunes in



Mar­quee Club last year, Drake, the big­gest rap­per in the world, in­ter­rupted his own set af­ter he no­ticed a man in the crowd. ‘Yo, stop that sh*t,’ he shouted. ‘If you don’t stop touch­ing girls, I will come out there and f*ck you up.’ It was a mo­ment that went vi­ral. A man grop­ing a woman at a gig? Not sur­pris­ing. A man pub­licly in­ter­ject­ing to stop it? So rare that peo­ple are still dis­cussing it, a year later.

While Hol­ly­wood is reel­ing from the af­ter­math of the Me Too move­ment, the mu­sic in­dus­try finds it­self at a cross­roads, slowly wak­ing up to a new re­al­ity. It’s not only Drake who is speak­ing up, call­ing peo­ple out and mak­ing head­lines by do­ing so. This past year has seen artists in­clud­ing Lily Allen, Tay­lor Swift and Björk pub­licly de­scribe ex­pe­ri­ences of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, while mu­sic ex­ec­u­tives, la­bel pro­mot­ers and DJs are be­ing more vo­cal about is­sues of abuse and an im­bal­ance of power in a way that hasn’t been dis­cussed be­fore. At this turn­ing point, where the long-dis­cussed boys’ clubs of mu­sic board­rooms and base­ment night­clubs are be­ing taken to task, the in­dus­try is be­ing forced to look at it­self in sharp fo­cus and is start­ing to re­alise that the cul­ture will need to shift to sur­vive.

For each fe­male artist who is start­ing to speak out, there are key women be­hind the scenes who are driv­ing change. Vanessa Reed is the CEO of PRS Foun­da­tion, a com­pany that works to se­cure fair pay­ment for artists’ work. This year, she hosted the PRS Foun­da­tion’s Key­change ini­tia­tive, which en­cour­aged 1OO fes­ti­vals world­wide, in­clud­ing The Great Es­cape in the UK, to com­mit to a 5O/5O gen­der bal­ance by 2O22 across live line-ups, con­fer­ences and com­mis­sions. In 2O17, 84% of head­line acts at UK fes­ti­vals were male, com­pared to the 3% of fe­male-led acts*. And while fes­ti­val line-ups are only one part of the in­dus­try, they re­flect the wider prob­lem in a very pub­lic way. For Reed, pop­u­lat­ing board­rooms with more women and re­claim­ing real, phys­i­cal space is an im­per­a­tive step to re­claim­ing voices that might have been si­lenced. Fe­male-led work­forces will be well placed to guar­an­tee bet­ter equal­ity of rights.




‘The pledge was needed be­cause the gen­der gap in mu­sic has been there for so long,’ she says. ‘Lit­tle has changed. High-pro­file, con­crete ac­tion that raises aware­ness, cre­ates a move­ment and stim­u­lates de­bate makes it harder for peo­ple to jus­tify old rou­tines and for­mats.’

Singer Lily Allen has been a prom­i­nent voice in re­veal­ing her own ex­pe­ri­ences of what it’s like to be at the mercy of old rou­tines and a tra­di­tional power struc­ture. ‘I’ve had things hap­pen that I would feel un­com­fort­able talk­ing about be­cause they’re linked with lots of peo­ple I work with. Peo­ple who are in con­trol of things that af­fect me,’ she told i News ear­lier this year. ‘But like Rose McGowan [one of the first ac­tors to speak out against film pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein], I re­ported it to peo­ple around me – women! – and no one did any­thing.’

The singer has also ques­tioned why the mu­sic in­dus­try is yet to have its own Hol­ly­wood-scale Me Too mo­ment: ‘In film and TV, you can choose not to work with any of those peo­ple again. You can move coun­try, move out of Lon­don to LA. You can’t do that in mu­sic. It’s the same bunch of peo­ple on both sides of the At­lantic, and it’s in­escapable be­cause it’s 15-year-long [artist] con­tracts.’

It’s a damn­ing sum­ma­tion of what it feels like to be front and cen­tre in an in­dus­try that gen­er­ates $16.1 bil­lion a year. And Allen isn’t alone in high­light­ing fail­ings from the in­side. Back In 2O14, be­fore the words ‘Me Too’ had been ut­tered on a pub­lic stage, a high-pro­file case shook the mu­sic in­dus­try. Amer­i­can singer Ke­sha made al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse and it opened the flood­gates for other women in mu­sic to share ex­pe­ri­ences of ha­rass­ment. The world watched as the names rolled in.

And ear­lier this year, the former girl­friend of R Kelly, Kitti Jones, spoke about the sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse she suf­fered while dat­ing the singer from 2O11 to 2O13, in­clud­ing acts that took place in an al­leged ‘sex dun­geon’. Pub­lic al­le­ga­tions have also been made against prom­i­nent fig­ures such as Chris Brown and the DJ David Mueller – who was sued by singer Tay­lor Swift for grop­ing her at a meet and greet be­fore a con­cert in 2O13. Both con­tinue to have ca­reers; when Mueller got an­other job in ra­dio ear­lier this year, there was a Twit­ter back­lash among Swift’s fans.

So why hasn’t the mu­sic world had its Har­vey We­in­stein mo­ment? It might be the short­age of women at each level who are able to flex their mus­cles enough to dis­rupt the sta­tus quo: sta­tis­tics show that only 28% of the mu­sic work­force are women, while from 2O13 to 2O18, women made up only 9.3% of Grammy nom­i­nees. The link is made, you might as­sume, by this logic: if women’s con­tri­bu­tions to the in­dus­try are con­sis­tently over­looked, it af­fects how much power they feel they have in a room. It’s re­ally as sim­ple as that. If we nor­malise the idea that women in mu­sic hold no real power, then how much of this be­comes in­ter­nalised when it comes to speak­ing up? And how does this af­fect the ac­tions of men?

The ac­tivism spear­headed by women in mu­sic, such as Reed, not only pushes men to chal­lenge what they see and speak out, but en­ables women to drive this dis­cus­sion fur­ther, and re­dress the bal­ance of other marginalised com­mu­ni­ties. Women of colour, and those from the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity, are still de­press­ingly in­vis­i­ble. ‘The con­ver­sa­tions that we’re hav­ing now aren’t new, but have been height­ened by Me Too and a wider ac­cep­tance that change is way over­due,’ says Reed. ‘The lack of women at the top of the in­dus­try’s ex­ist­ing power struc­tures [in­clud­ing in the board­room] re­mains one of the big­gest chal­lenges.’

In this light, re­dress­ing the power bal­ance be­comes cru­cial. And there are women in po­si­tions of author­ity who are slowly chal­leng­ing the tra­di­tional power dy­namic and open­ing up about their own sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. Ra­dio 1 DJ and pre­sen­ter Clara Amfo tells me about a re­cent ex­am­ple. ‘I was asked if I wanted to play Chris Brown and Lil Dicky, and I po­litely de­clined. I just said, “I’m not play­ing it.” And they were like, “OK, fair enough.”’

Talk­ing about her own ex­pe­ri­ences of toxic en­vi­ron­ments and how a new gen­er­a­tion of women is chang­ing the nar­ra­tive, she re­calls an en­counter early on in her ca­reer when she was ap­proached by ‘an older white gen­tle­man’ pho­tog­ra­pher who had a fas­ci­na­tion with ‘pho­tograph­ing black girls’. ‘At the time, I re­mem­ber think­ing he was creepy, and the whole thing be­ing very strange. I don’t think I said “no” out­right, but I didn’t end up be­ing in­volved. Later, I heard al­le­ga­tions that he’d been in­ap­pro­pri­ate with girls and I was






like, “Yes! I knew it.” I went with my gut. Now, I would have said no straight away, and I wanted to then, but was so young in my ca­reer I just didn’t know the lan­guage.”

Amfo recog­nises how the vo­cab­u­lary of the Me Too move­ment has been an aid for young women in the mu­sic in­dus­try, too. ‘We like to la­bel things to be able to give them clout,’ she says. ‘So peo­ple might not know how to ar­tic­u­late abuse, but Me Too gives them a short­hand.’

Hav­ing men­tors like Amfo who can ad­vise a new gen­er­a­tion as to what is and isn’t ac­cept­able is a pow­er­ful force for change, and this kind of sol­i­dar­ity is al­ready hap­pen­ing un­der­ground. Ear­lier this year, Radar Ra­dio, an east Lon­don sta­tion, was hailed as the fu­ture of mu­sic broad­cast­ing, and a place that you might hear Drake, Giggs and Katy Perry along­side hi­lar­i­ous take­downs of artists and mixes by the likes of DJ Snoochie Shy and oth­ers. These were per­son­al­i­ties des­tined to do big things, and a com­pany des­tined to chal­lenge big com­peti­tors.

Now, Radar Ra­dio has stopped broad­cast­ing. The si­lence is the re­sult of a mass walk­out back in April thanks, largely, to a blog post by Ashtart Al-Hurra, an ex-pro­ducer at the sta­tion who al­leged that she ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion. It’s a no­table prece­dent to set, watch­ing the ac­tions of a mu­sic com­mu­nity col­lec­tively bring down an in­sti­tu­tion that en­ables ha­rass­ment. It’s re­fresh­ing, too – af­ter all, what’s the point of the ‘un­der­ground’ if it only repli­cates the abu­sive power struc­tures of the main­stream elite?

The down­fall of Ra­dio Radar was ul­ti­mately caused by the kind of be­hav­iour seen in ‘old, white male board­rooms’, says Al-Hurra. But, she adds, no one is free from be­ing pub­licly held to ac­count in a post-Me Too world. ‘I was pro­cess­ing abuse and rape and I was de­bat­ing how to ex­pose my ex­pe­ri­ences for two months,’ she says. ‘I got to a point where I saw that oth­ers had spo­ken out and so I spoke out, too.’

The ra­dio sta­tion’s protests were a start for Al-Hurra. ‘I want this to be the be­gin­ning,’ she says. ‘That women like me won’t be quiet and ev­ery­one has to recog­nise that now, even if it’s un­com­fort­able.’

It’s clear that women won’t be si­lenced any­more, but what about af­ter they’ve spo­ken up? Yas­min La­joie is an artist man­ager and A&R con­sul­tant who is part of Stop 2O18, a cam­paign to en­cour­age women to speak up and out against sex­ual as­sault in the mu­sic in­dus­try. She says, ‘Sex­ual mis­con­duct is en­demic within the mu­sic in­dus­try, and vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple hun­gry for suc­cess, whether as artists and song­writ­ers or be­hind the scenes, are ex­ploited by preda­tory older men – and women.’

On the sub­ject of Spo­tify’s Hate­ful Con­duct pol­icy, a pledge by the com­pany this year to take cer­tain artists off playlists, in­clud­ing ac­cused abusers, in or­der to avoid be­ing seen as am­pli­fy­ing their con­duct (a de­ci­sion which has since been re­versed; the com­pany later de­cided it didn’t want to play ‘judge and jury’), La­joie says she’s adamant there are other ways that mu­sic com­pa­nies can take on the labour of care. I ask her if there should be mea­sures in place – like ther­apy, for ex­am­ple – which could act as a longer-term so­lu­tion for women who have spo­ken out.

‘La­bels are busi­nesses at the end of the day, and their bot­tom line is ev­ery­thing. In or­der to in­cen­tivise la­bels to pro­vide ther­apy, we need to demon­strate how poor men­tal health di­rectly af­fects their profit mar­gin. Ther­apy for artists and em­ploy­ees is an in­vest­ment,’ she says.

Mu­sic is evolv­ing, thanks to a mix of in­creas­ingly woke ex­ecs, women at the top, and al­lies in cul­ture chal­leng­ing the es­tab­lish­ment. The way this might look in the fu­ture is through la­bels pro­vid­ing emo­tional sup­port for artists who have ex­pe­ri­enced abuse, men call­ing out be­hav­iour, or even just en­cour­ag­ing your part­ner, hus­band, friend or son to be an­gered enough to de­mand sup­port for women in mu­sic – even if it means turn­ing off that Chris Brown song you like.

And while more women in the in­dus­try are speak­ing out, and sup­port­ing oth­ers who do so, mo­ments like Drake’s threat at the Mar­quee Club rep­re­sent one facet of the fu­ture of mu­sic – one where sol­i­dar­ity from men will help trump the old world or­der that artists such as Lily Allen have en­dured. Yet as the deafen­ing si­lence of those fail­ing to get on board gets louder, so too do the voices of women em­pow­ered by in­di­vid­u­als to speak up. For any­one cling­ing on to the old world – well, their time might re­ally be up.




CLOCK­WISE Björk, Ke­sha, Lily Allen, Clara Amfo, Tay­lor Swift and Katy Perry are tak­ing on the mu­sic in­dus­try’s boys’ club


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