The tragic death of rapper Mac Miller and the high-profile overdose of singer Demi Lovato have shined a light on the shadowy pervasiveness of addiction in the music industry as of late. As Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper prepare to release A Star Is Born, a movie about two musicians struggling with the toxicity of fame and addiction in the music industry, the time is ripe for a national — and industry-specific — conversation about addiction and the resources available to musicians.
Lady Gaga kicked off that conversation at a press conference for the film, saying, “I think what would be wonderful is that we intervene early in life when we see people struggling. I think fame is very unnatural. I think it’s important we guide artists and take care of them on a physical level as they rise.”
Gaga’s statement underlines a particular problem for entertainers, whose bodies and minds are commodified for public enjoyment. When a person is also a product, lines get blurred. For companies making money off entertainers, encouraging trading personal well-being for profit is a successful — and deadly — business strategy. Fans can be just as bad, and as the recent surge of celebrity hacking scandals shows, once a star achieves fame, the public stops respecting their humanity.
Cooper and Gaga’s version will be the third remake of A Star Is Born. Previous versions from the '50s and '70s starring music icons Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand illustrate how that throughout music history the industry has treated artists as products instead of people, and addiction is a common coping mechanism.
The kind of help that musicians need, but don’t have sufficient access to, extends beyond addiction. Lily Allen told iNews that the small concentration of global decision-makers and “15-year-long contracts” with labels make the music industry more toxic for artists than film and television, leading her to keep quiet about her own experience with sexual abuse in the industry. These complicated contracts can trap artists in harmful environments, such as Kesha’s public battle with Sony to end a contract forcing her to work with her alleged abuser Dr. Luke. Both singers struggled while deciding who to report abuse to, fearing labels would side with their abuser to protect profits. Without systems of support for artists, they’re left vulnerable to an industry that sees their bodies as dollars.
Recent accusations that Recording Academy chairman Neil Portnow misappropriated money meant for MusiCares, a charity providing financial support for music industry professionals in personal or health crises (including funding substance abuse treatment), towards producing the Grammy awards show, illustrates the out-of-touch priorities at the top of the industry when it comes to helping artists.
Now is the time to start a conversation about putting systems in place to support musicians and make the music industry a healthy environment for artists.