Kesha has never been nominated for a Grammy before; this year, she is nominated for two and will perform at the awards show for the first time. One nomination is for her latest album, Rainbow, and the other is for the single “Praying,” a song she wrote about finding peace after going through what she describes as a nearly intolerable period of depression. She alludes to, but never directly addresses, her protracted and still ongoing legal battles with the producer of her first two records, Dr. Luke, who she says verbally, physically, and sexually abused her over the course of their 13-year working relationship that started when she was 18. (Dr. Luke has denied the allegations.)
Her performance was announced two weeks ago, and at first it looked like it would be the only showing of #MeToo at the Grammys (in fact longtime producer Ken Ehrlich confirmed as much to the Daily Beast). A group of 15 mid-level industry executives who call themselves Voices in Entertainment decided that wasn't enough. They reached out to the Time's Up movement and organized a white rose campaign on the red carpet to help raise awareness, and more importantly, funds for the campaign.
"We’re all women who work behind the scenes, and we felt really strongly. We thought this would be something we could share with our colleagues and the artists who we work with to spread the word a little. We didn’t think it would become a tsunami," Meg Harkins, SVP of Marketing at Roc Nation and one of the Voices in Entertainment organizers tells Refinery29.
In the rallying email they sent out to women and allies in the industry, they revealed that Rapsody, the only woman nominated for Best Rap Album this year (a category that only one woman, Lauryn Hill, has ever won) would be wearing a white rose. Within hours, their rallying email leaked, and Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Camila Cabello, Halsey, Dua Lipa, and a slew of other artists signed on to show their support by wearing a white rose.
This “resistance” is more of a last-minute grassroots campaign. In the two weeks spent reporting this story, Refinery29 reached out to over a dozen artists to ask if they planned to represent #MeToo or Time’s Up at this year’s ceremony. No one responded until days before the event. That's when Grammy nominee K.Flay’s publicist reached out on her behalf to say that her client was disturbed to find out that it appeared nothing had been organized. The next day, the Voices in Entertainment email made the rounds.
It is unexpected, in our celebrity-driven culture, to see a campaign of this sort spearheaded not from the top down, but from the middle out. Juxtaposed with what's happening in Hollywood, it begs the question: Do artists feel unable to organize a campaign of their own in music? Did those in the C-suite feel no obligation to lead the charge? Harkins tells us that the response the organizers have received has been all positive; in fact Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman, the COO and CEO of Atlantic Records, reportedly "escalate[d] it immediately to the top of the Warner Bros. food chain" to encourage their artists and employees to participate. Given the number of artists who have signed on, this is obviously a cause everyone can get behind. But will a one-time show of solidarity affect any real change in music?
Harkins believes this just a jumping off point, saying this can be "the first tentpole in a year, the music industry has festivals and other award shows...It’s for a good cause, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon."
K.Flay tells Refinery29 she plans to speak up on behalf of Time’s Up, should she get the chance as a Grammy nominee. She is up for Best Engineered Album, Non Classical, and Best Rock Song. She is one of only two women nominated in the former category, and the only woman in the latter. “It’s important for there to be a message at the Grammys,” K.Flay says. “This is a gathering of people who have cultural relevance and the flexibility to say these things. If you’re a domestic worker, you don’t have the platform. If you are in an industry where you have the ability to speak out with some level of freedom, it’s imperative to do so.”
Echoing the mission of the Voices in Entertainment, K.Flay says she hopes the Grammys have more than one moment focused on this movement. “100% I think it should be discussed," she says. "Just because there hasn’t been a Weinstein in music doesn’t mean there isn’t one, in both big and small ways.”
K.Flay, and many artists and industry insiders we spoke to for this article, said they want to see inequality addressed on the red carpet and during the show as well. Grammys host James Corden appeared on CBS This Morning, Stephen Colbert, and Live with Kelly and Ryan to promote the show this week; not one person asked him about addressing #MeToo or Time’s Up, until the Associated Press did on Thursday. When asked, he said "of course" he would be wearing a white rose, and that we should expect Kesha's performance to be a "moving moment."
"We found out last night that James Corden is wearing a rose, as the host of the Grammys," Harkins says. "We didn’t even reach out to him, we found out about it online." Whether he will address it from the stage remains unknown, and our request for comment to a representative for the Grammys telecast went unanswered. (For what it's worth, the always outspoken Kelly Clarkson is a presenter in the show. Smart money is on her bringing a “Natalie Portman moment” to the proceedings.)
Just because there hasn’t been a Weinstein in music doesn’t mean there isn’t one, in both big and small ways.
Not everyone is as convinced this is a potential watershed moment. “[A reckoning] can’t happen in our business,” a veteran publicist of nearly 30 years who wished to remain anonymous, tells Refinery29. “The men who are actually doing the producing and managing of artists are still complicit, and it seems female artists are not as empowered to get organized. Look what it took Kesha to get to this point. I’m sure the Grammys thought, We have to do something, we can’t just let this go by us. Kesha is the front-page angle, and this is her moment — she deserves a moment. She’s been through hell and back. But that’s not a resistance.”
There has been a significant outing of influential men in music over the past few months. But, before Weinstein, the industry was rocked in May of 2017 when Epic Records President L.A. Reid was fired following a company investigation into a sexual harassment claim against him. Reid announced he’s recruiting talent for a new music venture in August of 2017, that will include a record label, publishing arm, and offer representation to producers; he didn’t take much of a time out. The culture shift after Weinstein appears to have slowed his plans down.
“I’m very disappointed in how the music industry has handled our own,” the publicist continues. “How is Dr. Luke our big moment, when that story is just the tip of the iceberg? Executives like L.A. Reid have been disgraced, and others still have not fallen from grace. We need to do more.”
“We don’t have the kind of strength that the movie industry does,” says Jennifer Justice, the President of Corporate Development at Superfly, the co-producers of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. “In executive leadership, there has never been a woman who has run a record company or publishing company, without reporting to a man.”
If you don’t think that trickles down, consider this: At the 2018 Grammy Awards, there's not a single female artist or producer nominated for Record of the Year, the final (and biggest) award of the night. One woman, Lorde, is up for Album of the Year. Apparently the Recording Academy’s voting body didn’t feel that women did much to merit notice in this cycle; according to a study conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, they are right. The “Inclusion In the Recording Studio?” study found that 2017 was a six-year low mark for women on the charts, with female artists only attached to 16.8% of songs and only 11.4% of songwriters credited were women.
I’m very disappointed in how the music industry has handled our own. How is Dr. Luke our big moment, when that story is just the tip of the iceberg?
Anonymous veteran music publicist
The lack of recognition is more than an issue of ego. Liz Hart, the principal at Miss Management, tells a story about an recent email from a music supervisor soliciting score submissions for a commercial client. The company only wanted submissions from composers who have won major awards, cutting most of her female clients out of the running. “I think the awards shows have a responsibility to reach out to underserved communities,” Hart says. “They’re doing themselves a disservice to not push through more women, people of color, and the transgender community. And people in those communities aren’t getting jobs as a result of it.”
It also matters to the audience at home. Seeing artists protesting and addressing issues of sexual misconduct and inequality is inspiring. Protests, like the all-black dress code at the Golden Globes, invigorated many home viewers as well as raising their consciousness. A study by MTV found that of young viewers, aged 18-25, 87% of them think talking about #MeToo experiences is a good thing and 45% feel they would have to avoid watching a TV show or movie starring someone accused of sexual assault. And a survey by The Tylt revealed that 66% of millennials think celebrities should be political at awards shows. It seems that the younger end of the audience wants to know who is part of the resistance and trying to bring equality to the world of entertainment. Sexual abuse is an issue so many women of all ages face themselves. They want to see their heroes fighting it, on their behalf.
Music badly needs more people who are willing to have a “Kesha moment.” Now is the time for artists who can be honest and open about their past experiences and use it to affect change for the future. If you don’t see that on your TV screens at this year's Grammy ceremony, grab your wallet. The music industry is run by multinational corporations who are driven by the bottom line — not Twitter activism. It's time we stop supporting artists who are known to abuse women. Don’t buy their work. Don’t see them in concert. Don’t stream them. And if you’re not sure who those people are, Justice has some parting words of advice: “You can always just play all-female artists, all of the time.”