As #MeToo allegations against industry figures in the movie and TV industry continue to pile up, some wonder how long it will be before the music industry will be engulfed as well.
To be sure, a cleansing is long overdue and, in some ways, has already begun. Executives like Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons and Republic Records president Charlie Walk are being investigated and are lawyering up on allegations that they abused and assaulted multiple women. Kesha continues to fight a battle involving Dr. Luke while L.A. Reid was forced to step down as the head of Epic Records after being accused of sexual harassment.
Music industry whistleblower Bob Lefsetz has been calling out members of the music establishment with his newsletter, publishing stories of women (and a few men) who have endured indignities, been denied promotions and suffered verbal and physical abuses by men in power. These stories make for sober reading.
Women who were encouraged to dress provocatively and then endured unwelcome touching. Women who were exposed to all kinds of emotional and verbal abuse. Women who were told that sleeping with superiors was part of the job and necessary for advancement. Women who were brave enough to go to HR but were either ignored or were dismissed as overreacting over even being hysterical. Women who fought back but were forever blacklisted from the industry for being troublemakers.
Many languished in lower level positions. Others quit the business entirely. An intrepid few refused to play the game and managed to carve out their own piece of the industry.
On the artist side, we’ve already heard of charges against R Kelly, Ethan Kath of Crystal Castles, former Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile and Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM. Charges range from sexual misconduct to outright rape. Brand New singer Jesse Lacey confessed to serial sexual misconduct after being outed on Facebook. More names are undoubtedly forthcoming. Santa Monica Police Department confirmed it is investigating allegations made against Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys.
But finding justice for those abused at the hands of music industry types may prove to be more difficult than in other areas of the entertainment business. This entire industry was founded on sexual permissiveness and promiscuity. It’s designed to sell sex and fantasy. Awful behaviour has become entrenched, but institutionalized over the decades.
There have been many blind eyes to horrific behaviour, things that would never, ever be tolerated today. For example:
• Lori Maddox (sometimes spelled Mattix), a 14-year-old groupie, who claims to have lost her virginity to David Bowie and then openly dated Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
• Still with Led Zeppelin, Google “mudshark incident”— if you dare.
• Ted Nugent fell in love with 17-year-old Pele Massa but because he couldn’t legally marry her, he became her legal guardian.
• Read Motley Crue’s The Dirt or Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road Out of Hell for tales of abhorrent, aberrant and loathsome treatment of female fans.
• New York’s Angels & Kings Club, co-founded by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, was shut down in 2012 after years of rumours as a place that hosted underage teenage girls.
What can one make of the whole groupie phenomenon, thousands of young women who would do anything — anything — to party with a band backstage, on the tour bus or back at the hotel?
They may now have regrets and injuries, both psychological and physical, from those experiences, but so many of them knew what they were getting into as they waited outside the stage door. That doesn’t give their abusers a free pass, of course, but it does make it more difficult for these women to come forward.
While we do have the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gaining traction, there’s also a tremendous amount of hypocrisy being exhibited. That’s what struck me during Kesha’s powerful Grammy performance of Praying.
WATCH: Kesha at the 2018 Grammy awards
Many of those industry people in the audience who gave her a standing ovation were the same who ignored her plight with Dr. Luke and continued to work with him. And these are the same people who are supposed to initiate change?
Fortunately, once ideas like #MeToo and #TimesUp take root, they can become very resilient.
There were some very powerful speeches during and after the Grammys with Janelle Monae’s moment being the most resonant.
More than 300 musicians in Australia were behind an open letter exposing abuses, tagging it #MeNoMore. Another similar letter, this time in Sweden, was signed by nearly 2,200 women, which urged others to end their silence and speak out, confident in knowing that they will have the support of thousands through their truth-telling.
“We will no longer be silent,” read the letter.
“We demand zero tolerance for sexual exploitation or violence. Sexual assault or violence will have consequences in terms of terminations of contracts. 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.”
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.