After the year of #MeToo, there’s a fear that’s out there. It’s a fear that 2017 will be remembered as a year in which women finally started to speak out against people in positions of power who used that power to humiliate, assault and destroy personal and professional lives. The fear lies in that phrase “will be remembered” – it suggests memory will quickly become history. Very soon, 2017 will clock out. After that, there’s the fear of no progress. No change. The momentum has to be kept racing for our power to keep going.
The name of the Stop 2018 campaign by itself reminds us of the importance of the present day. A campaign to tackle the climate of sexual assault, bullying and “a toxic culture of silence” within the UK music industry, it has been launched by four women who have been inspired to speak out and, in some cases, share their own grisly stories. There’s international music supervisor and A&R Michelle de Vries, who resigned from a major music company after a senior colleague masturbated in front of her repeatedly. A lawyer advised her not to report this information at the time. “If you report this, you will never work in the industry again,” de Vries recalled.
Then there’s Yasmin Lajoie, a singer-songwriter who was "groomed" by her manager from the age of 15, who knows of young artists being raped, as well as bosses demanding that their vulnerable charges give them oral sex. Musician Chlöe Howl, who was shortlisted for Brit and BBC newcomer awards in 2014, knows this, too, and makes up the main campaign team alongside journalist and musician Helienne Lindvall. Their campaign aims are expressed simply through four pledges: to make trade organisations create safe places for the reporting of abuse and assault; for music companies to stop working with individuals who exhibit predatory behaviour; for women to be offered the same opportunities in music as men, from the very beginnings of their careers; and to bring an end to managers and labels telling female artists they need to flirt or wear provocative clothing to be successful.
Simple requests to deal with, surely? Sadly not. In January this year, UK Music reported that 59 per cent of entry-level business roles were given to women, but only 30 per cent made it to senior level – that’s too big a discrepancy to suggest something else isn’t going on. As for that pledge about predatory individuals? R Kelly is still making music. That’s the R Kelly who has a well-documented, 25-year history of allegedly victimising women and underage girls, and who gets away with it, New Yorker writer Jim DeRogatis argued persuasively last month, because “his continued success hinges on the invisibility of black women and girls in America”. In the US, Kesha’s complicated series of lawsuits against her old producer, Dr Luke, rumble on, too; even though she has previously accused him of sexual assault, he allegedly remains on the payroll at Sony.
I know women in my area of work who’ve had their careers diverted and devalued, thanks to the actions of men
As someone who doesn’t work in the music industry, but often sees how it works from its fringes, this year has made me think again about how its women are perceived. I think of certain female artists who arrived on the scene like fascinating individuals, who have changed provocatively and uncomfortably, as they’ve risen in the industry. I think of people I should’ve questioned harder about their notorious pasts (the sexual revolution that ran alongside rock ’n' roll often only worked for the people with penises). I’ve also started thinking how keenly we should re-evaluate the stories of women who were in, or around, our biggest bands (I only found out recently, for example, while writing about The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers, that Yoko Ono was subject to frequent miscarriages at the end of The Beatles’ career, which sheds a new light on John Lennon wanting to be close to her).
I also know women in my area of work who’ve had their careers diverted and devalued, thanks to the actions of men (men, I notice, who are still in charge). Amazingly, many of these women have raised their chins and battled on, and more women are feeling emboldened to join them – and I’m not just talking about high-profile people like Taylor Swift (who won a civil case concerning sexual assault in August) or the likes of Adele and Pink, who rallied to Kesha’s cause.
I’m also starting to hear even more rage and resilience in music itself, too. As well as Kesha’s comeback album, Rainbow, pulling no punches, and getting to number one in the US, Jessica Lea Mayfield’s Sorry Is Gone tackled the abusive marriage she’d survived with anger and power. In November, U.S. Girls (Illinois-born experimental pop artist Meghan Remy) released my single of the year, which captured the #MeToo moment exquisitely: the amazing, raging pop anthem Mad As Hell (a taster for her incredible album about women fighting abuse and assault, In A Poem Unlimited, which comes out in March).
Everywhere, it seems, voices are still being raised; metaphorically and literally, more songs are being sung. Let 2018 be our year, and every year thereafter.