The reckoning for abusive men that started in Hollywood has turned its eye towards the music industry. This week, after three women accused Republic Records group president Charlie Walk of sexual harassment and assault, he was placed on leave from the company pending an investigation and will not appear on the final episode of The Four, the Fox singing show for which he acted as a judge in its first season. He denies the allegations.
Exploitative practices in country radio were examined in a stunning example of the systematic abuse of power by men in Rolling Stone. Female artists told stories of being asked to sit in the laps of program directors along with unwanted touching, and women working in radio shared horrific stories of assault and harassment.
And, Billboard released its 2018 Power 100 List to great backlash, once again, because only 17% of the list is made up of women. The industry mag notes, "men still fill most top music industry jobs." This, coupled with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative's study which found that women make up woefully low numbers of artists, songwriters, and are nearly nonexistent as producers on the top tracks of the last five years, broadcasts loudly and clearly that women are massively underrepresented in all areas of the music industry.
Since the Weinstein allegations kicked off a mass outing of men abusing their power in Hollywood, music has gone largely unexamined. Russell Simmons is probably the most high-profile person to stand accused, as a result of the Los Angeles Times investigation into his friend Brett Ratner. While Simmons is a figurehead who shaped early hip-hop, his actual executive and decision-making power in music hasn't existed for over a decade — he is tangentially in the industry, at best. (Simmons denies any relations were nonconsensual.) A few other executives have been accused, investigated by their own companies, and quietly let go or put on leave. At least one of those cases was handed over to the police as a criminal investigation. No artists have been outed. But thinking that there is no abuse in the music industry just because a spotlight hasn't been shined on it would be erroneous.
Music could have easily been ground zero for the reckoning, however, with the ousting of disgraced Epic Records president L.A. Reid back in May of 2017. Sony Music and Reid, who was also formerly a judge on The X-Factor USA, declined to comment on the reason he was leaving his post when the news was announced. A few days later, the New York Post revealed it had obtained correspondence proving Reid was removed from his job due to a sexual harassment complaint by his assistant; later that same day Variety reported there were multiple accusers. To date, Sony Music has not acknowledged the reason Reid was removed, and he has not made a statement about it. We may never know how many women he allegedly abused because it wasn't allowed to become a public conversation.
That behind-closed-doors deal stands in stark contrast to Walk, whose initial accuser came for him in a public blog post, while two subsequent accusations came anonymously in an industry blog. That forced Republic Records, under the Universal Music Group (UMG) to deal with the matter publicly. They announced they have obtained outside council to investigate Walk and urged any women with further accusations to speak to those lawyers.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Walk's first accuser, Tristan Coopersmith, said she wrote her blog post as a letter in November after the Weinstein allegations came to light as part of her "therapeutic process," saying that news "unlocked" something in her that forced her to deal with her feelings about his alleged harassment. After attending the Women's March in Los Angeles this January, Coopersmith said she was "profoundly impacted," citing Viola Davis's moving speech in particular. "My purpose in sharing it was to continue the conversation," Coopersmith said. "This isn't about Charlie. This isn't about the music industry...It's a much broader conversation about a massive shift we need to have in workplaces."
She's right, but part of the reason Coopersmith, unlike Reid's accusers, has been able to address this publicly is the industry-wide use of NDAs and forced arbitration, which Gretchen Carlson explained she is working to have legally outlawed on Wednesday night's episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. If Walk has other accusers who are currently working with him, they are potentially obliged by their contracts with UMG to handle it internally. If this had remained an internal matter, the company could have easily chosen not to publicise why he was leaving, should he be terminated at the end of this investigation into his conduct. And that lack of disclosure is how serial abusers, in any industry, continue to jump from company to company.
Don't believe it's true? Well, L.A. Reid is looking to make a comeback in music. Billboard reports his music publishing company, Hitco, is rumoured to be making a return at any time now with a female executive heading it, former Aftermath Entertainment head Kirdis Postelle, and rumours are floating that he's raised $75 million to fund it from venture capitalists. If those people knew every detail about every woman who accused him of misconduct, would the money have kept flowing his way so freely?
It remains to be seen if the industry will take Reid back, or if artists will want to work with him.
The tidal wave that the Weinstein allegations began may have taken a moment to reach music, but now that the first man in the industry is being forced to face accusations in a similar public fashion, it's hard to imagine things returning to they way they were done even nine months ago. That's due, in part, to the way our public discourse about workplace harassment has changed and in part to women in music having numbers to back up how underrepresented they are. The blinders are now off, and women can see how low their influence in the world of music has been, with some statistics to back up the oppression they've felt. As artists rally around calling out the head of the Grammys and women in the industry seem to lose their fear of speaking out about misconduct, there's no turning back now.
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