The music industry has always been fraught with male entitlement and toxic masculinity. While it all that surprising in a general sense, I still found myself shocked and upset when the New isn’t York Times published an in-depth article about Ryan Adams, a prolific, angsty and successful singer-songwriter, who targeted young, aspiring female musicians and offered to help start their careers; however, was only out to objectify and use them sexually.
The worst of these cases involved a talented then 14-year-old bassist, with whom he engaged in inappropriate sexual text messages and video chats. Other female artists who found themselves targeted by Adams include Mandy Moore, Phoebe Bridgers, and Courtney Jaye. While Adams promised to help their career and work with them professionally, what they actually received was an aggressive romantic pursuit and threats of professional retaliation when they did not comply in the way he wanted.
Adams offered a vague and ineffective apology on Twitter, saying, “I am not a perfect man and I have made many mistakes. To anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally, I apologize deeply and unreservedly.” He never took responsibility for the pain he caused or for taking clear advantage of these young, talented women trying to gain success in a tough industry.
Being a fan of Adam’s music myself, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth when thinking about how he predatorily took advantage of women. It poses a larger question about artists and their work: is it possible to separate an artist’s personal life from the art they create?
I reached out and presented this question to journalist and Buzzfeed contributor Anna Held who wrote a profound article about the Adams situation titled “Ryan Adams And The Betrayal Of Teenage Girls” which tied in the idea that just because Adams makes good music that speaks to sensitive souls, doesn’t mean that he inherently cares about the thoughts and feelings of those around him.
According to Held, she believes “that any piece of art should be evaluated on its own separate from its creator. However, I’m not a fan of Adams anymore.
I can’t listen to any of those songs without thinking of him and what he’s done.” Even so, her opinion of Adams as an objective musician is a bit different: “His work is still good music (so, evaluating it as art isolated from the artist). It’s not all of a sudden bad because we have this new information.”
Though, she notes a crucial point about being supportive of an artist. “However, to be a fan is to have a personal relationship with the work and the maker. I will not be able to engage with it the same way I did before and no longer consider myself a fan.”
Held’s inability to listen to Adams completely mirrors the bitter emotions I found myself feeling when thinking of him and his music that I used to enjoy.
I used to implicitly argue the fact that an artist should be completely separate from their art; after all, sometimes an artist has to go through dark progressions of life in order to have the perspective to create something beautiful.
However, after reading up on Adams and his shameful acts of deception toward young women, I have also found it impossible to listen to his songs without cringing. The argument I stood by and fought for fell by the wayside.
As a young woman who could easily be taken advantage of, it truly feels like a betrayal that I am unable to forget. The saddest part of this situation is that Adams is not the first man to target aspiring young women in the music industry and he most certainly won’t be the last.
Even worse still, it is not just the music industry. While it is prevalent throughout this industry in particular, successful men of any and all trades have been taking advantage and deceiving women with high hopes since the dawn of time.
While I am no longer able to listen to Adams anymore without a sinking feeling in my stomach, I know that women have to take a stand against this toxic behavior. Being involved in a psychologically and mentally abusive situation is extremely draining and difficult to untangle from.
But, at the very least, the women that Adams targeted are stronger because of it and can continue to find success on their own with mentors who truly want the best for them.
Perhaps one day the music industry will rid itself of this type of behavior and make me hopeful again. Though that day is not today.