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Opinion: Don’t forget the music industry in the #MeToo movement

Musicians haven’t been vocal about sexual harassment within their sector of Hollywood.

The music industry is experiencing an identity crisis, wavering between advocating for social equality and perpetuating the objectification of woman for monetary gain. Rapper Cardi B called out her male colleagues for not taking the #MeToo movement seriously in a recent interview with Cosmopolitan. She recounted her personal experiences with sexism and harassment while finding her way into the business.

“These producers and directors, they’re not woke,” she said. “They’re scared.”

Just how seriously is the music industry taking this whole women’s movement, equality thing? Allegations have been piling up against, and dethroning, Hollywood elites in TV and film like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, James Franco, Mario Batali, and Dustin Hoffman, while the number of music figures accused of such lewd behavior is a tiny fraction of that list. Why are women staying silent?

This strange dichotomy was evident at this year’s 60th Annual Grammy Awards, making music’s biggest night a jarring viewing experience. The awards were held in late January at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and now — two months later — Cardi B is the first major female artist to discuss this bubble of oblivion the music industry lives in.

We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up

Following the 2018 Golden Globes #TimesUp red carpet blackout, two female music executives stood in solidarity with the movement by requesting Grammy attendees to wear white roses. Kesha delivered the biggest nod of the evening to the #MeToo movement with her emotional performance of her hit song, “Praying,” a song she wrote about her long and highly publicized battle with producer Dr. Luke regarding allegations of sexual and emotional abuse. Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha and Andra Day accompanied Kesha on stage, dressed in all white, for a transcendent music moment ending in tears and embrace.

Recording artist Janelle Monae fittingly prefaced Kesha’s performance by sending an empowering message of her own to the music industry. “We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up. We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power.”

While these stand-out moments were especially authentic — carrying strong messages of unity, hope and progress — the evening was tainted by hypocrisy on all fronts.

The night’s winners list told a more realistic narrative of the event. Of the eight awards presented during the live CBS telecast, only one was given to a woman — Alessia Cara, who won Best New Artist. The full list didn’t fare any better, with women taking home only 11 of the total 84 categories. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s response to the #GrammysSoMale Twitter sensation? He suggested that women in music should “step up.” 

What disgusted many wasn’t a surprise to others. The damning results of a recent USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study highlighted the overwhelming, systemic gender imbalance among Grammy nominees: Examining a six-year period between 2012-2018, females accounted for only 9.3% of all Grammy nominations.

Billboard’s Power 100 List annually ranks the most influential players in the music industry. In 2017, only eight women made the cut. Of the 20 executives sitting on the board of the Recording Industry Association of America, only four are women.

Institutional change innately comes from the top down, and clearly this arena does not have the progressive structures in place internally, at its upper echelon, to garner this must-needed shift.

The deep-rooted sexism in the music industry extends beyond unequal recognition and into negative representation. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s performance of Latin mega-hit “Despacito” was perhaps the most ridiculous juxtaposition of the evening.

The four-minute act Latino fans called “a sensational performance” was truly an out-of-touch embarrassment highlighting the objectification of women. The Puerto Rican duo was accompanied by an entourage of semi-naked dancers grinding all over the stage. Mid-song, Zuleyka Rivera, a Puerto Rican beauty queen and former Miss Universe, strutted to center stage in a nude and gold bodysuit and danced alongside the singers.

Jueves de #tb I just can’t get enough of the Grammys 2018 #despacito

A post shared by Zuleyka Rivera (@zuleykarivera) on

 

She had no purpose in the number: She was merely a prop reinforcing the powerful status of the two fully clothed men to her sides.

“Despacito” has transcended language borders to becoming the most watched music video of all time with nearly 5 billion YouTube views, and most recently, the first Latin song primarily sung in a different language than English to reach one billion plays on Spotify. Leading up to the awards, there were high hopes the Spanish track would claim one of the top honors of the evening — something that has never been done in modern Grammys history. When that dream proved to be just a dream, fans took to social media to voice their disappointment.

 

But how many people actually know what they’re saying while singing along to their favorite tune? Despacito’s lyrics translated into English are highly degrading to women, and quite frankly, borderline criminal.

Trespass your danger zones? “Trespassing” means to unlawfully enter or to make unwarranted/uninvited advances. When you listen to the whole song, it eerily seems to be describing some sort of rape fantasy. While the diversity behind the song is notable, it is unacceptable to overshadow its evident messaging. How do songs like these skyrocket to the top of music charts?

I cannot believe or accept that sexual misconduct is so rare in the music world — a highly competitive line of work led exclusively by males. There is, of course, a distinction between writing misogynistic song lyrics and actually perpetuating those acts. However, these lyrics and overall portrayals of male dominance and power have become too culturally ingrained in our society.

If the industry genuinely wants to elevate women beyond sex objects, then today’s performers should spend more time and give more thought to crafting music that reflects just that.

Will the music industry ever reach an ethical equilibrium? Nobody is expecting a 180degree change overnight — let’s be honest, that’s unrealistic. The music industry desperately needs to cut the facade, streamline their message and come up with a realistic action plan to make change possible and effective. I want to see genuine care and gradual steps taken to create an all-inclusive, safe and uplifting industry. The dominos will only begin to fall once more women come forward to share their stories and perspectives on the issue, just like Cardi B did.

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Top image: Photo Illustration: Heran Mamo/Neon