ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash
Is Music a Safer Industry Than Past Decades?
TOMORROW will see me…
look at, among other things, female-made music from years gone by – and the comparative lack of spritzing, energised anthems today – and why, I feel, Canadian artists should be watched closely (for good reasons). I was struck by a piece in The Guardian that looked at the notion of a ‘Rock groupie’ and whether they exist anymore. I really hope not: there is a part of me that feels, somewhere, the practice is still happening. The notion of the group-stalking groupie is something that has been romanticised and played down to an extent. From Rock legends like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to, well…pretty much any big male artist of the past God-knows-how-many-decades – it seems, so long as nobody was getting hurt, it was all part of the music business. That vision of ingénue, naive female females finding their way into their idol’s bed – or something less comfortable – drew many into music. The vision is the female being ‘dominated’ or seduced by the male: there are few incidents, one hears, of male fans as groupies to female artists. Maybe that has happened in the past: I could not possibly imagine that happening in today’s climate. One of the interesting points the article raised was whether record contracts had a stipulation regards sexual misconduct and interaction with fans. Morals were very loose and unpoliced back in the 1960s and 1970s.
IN THIS PHOTO: Led Zeppelin in the early-1970s/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex
At a time where there was a certain lack of outcry and vigilance regarding sexual assault and abuse; bands and groupies came together frequently and naturally. One can imagine there were sworded and unwanted encounters – how long before these come to light? I always associate the groupie with the big bands of the charts, normally Rock groups. Movements like #MeToo have brought the issue of sexual abuse to the forefront – is it still happening and occurring away from the mainstream? Bands like Moose Blood and Brand New have been accused of inappropriateness and sexual misconduct; Ben Hopkins, of the New York duo PWR BTTM, has been in the news – another artist shamed and disgraced. That notion of being an inspiration and guidance has always been flawed. Fans assume, if they are bedded by their favourite musicians, they, in turn, will compel their next song. I am not sure where that notion stemmed from but it is rather troubling. I have not heard any songs about great groupies and how they changed lives. Maybe one should not wag the finger at Rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses – or any other major act who had to fight women/girls from their dressing room after every gig. Thinking about male bands and female fans together sours the musical experience. I think of it like human sushi: a conveyor belt of objects being inspected and tasted; moved onto the next person and dispensed at the end – raw, hip and casual.
IN THIS PHOTO: PWR BTTM (dropped from their label following allegations made against their lead singer, Ben Hopkins)/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Seung Lee
Even if that girl wanted the encounter to happen; she would have been tossed aside and forgotten about when the ecstasy and drugs wore off – and the soberness of the new day meant a fresh conquest for the band. Maybe there are band members who have entered relationships with groupies. That idea of male musicians taking advantage and getting their rocks off feeds into that vision of the Rockstar and what it is all about. That still happens today: it is all booze, drugs and sex. No matter whether both parties consent and want things to happen; you look back and wonder whether greater policing should have happened? There would be an outcry if, say, IDLES and Royal Blood publicised their sexual encounters with fans. If they took the approach of older bands and what happened in decades past; the media would string them up and their contracts would be terminated. Even though that headiness and sexual excess is not promoted and part of the musician’s rider; there are cases where artists are taking advantage and hoping they’ll get away with things. It does seem to be an entirely male issue: I cannot imagine why a female musician having sex with a fan after a gig. Maybe that did happen, now and then, in the past – can you think of a modern female musician who courts groupies and preys on fans?! Katy Perry, rather ludicrously, was in the news for kissing a male contestant on a reality T.V. show...
IN THIS PHOTO: Katy Perry/PHOTO CREDIT: Rony Alwin
She was meant to kiss him on the cheek: the fact she turned his face and planted one on the lips led some papers and sources to cry out and label her a pest and disgrace. The name of the young man escapes me – I could look it up but I am comfy here – but Perry’s kiss was his very first. I can imagine he was taken aback but it is hard to imagine why he would be shocked and offended. If a male artist kissed a female contestant; that would get headlines and be wrong. If that were me, I would be flattered. Being kissed by Katy Perry is not something to turn down or get upset about – it was meant as a kind gesture and compassionate moment (having her as your first kiss is a pretty big brag). She is not out to seduce young men and use her celebrity to bed vulnerable fans. Whilst, on paper, it might seem like a contradiction and ironic statement; one cannot put Perry in the same camp as a male musician who gropes fans and abuses them – their intentions are nefarious and they are trying to get their end away. Incidents like the one involving Perry are harmless and minor: band members and solo artists assaulting their fans/other women is incredibly serious. I think things are changing and improvements are coming through: there are still cases of male artists being accused and exposed.
IN THIS PHOTO: Moose Blood/PHOTO CREDIT: Press
In the case of Moose Blood; they have been accused of exploiting fans and preying on young women – using their stature and clout to get their way and do whatever they please. We are hearing of cases and women speaking out against their abusers. I wonder how many cases are still unsolved and collecting dust; fear of being doubted means many women are not coming forward. Looking at that Guardian article got me thinking about the way music has evolved and how we have seen a diminishment of the groupie. There are cases of women and men wilfully exposing their bodies and getting close to artists. They want that thrill and the brag: being able to get a musician to touch them or get them into bed. Back in the 1970s; artists like David Bowie and Jimmy Page had sex with fans who were underage. We all celebrate these artists but forget, actually, they have committed sexual offences as part of their everyday lives. Maybe they were unaware of the true age of their conquest: one suspects they knew and, as there was consent from the female (or not), then that was okay. If people were not looking and the girl did not come forward; what is the harm in giving her what she wants?! That icky and flagrant disregard for morals and law has subsided in the present time. I am hearing women speak out against artists who have misread a situation or taking an innocent request as fuel for abuse and sexual explicitness.
The rise in technology and social media has a mixed sense of blessing. We can ostracise and villainise an accused a lot quicker and more effectively. Labels, venues and fellow artists can be tagged and included in the discussion – meaning that artist/band are brought to task and gigs removed (or contracts severed). The fact there are so many Smartphones out there means male artists are photographing women without their consent or sharing private snaps. They are videoing their incongruous motions and sharing them with mates. Some women have asked to be on a guest-list – not in a pushy way; a calm and reasoned request – and a musician has, instead, used that to initiate a sexual encounter – leverage and privacy whilst he/they let their hands and penises wander. Whilst there is not the same level of debauched sexuality behind the scenes of music: we are seeing it happen in seedy corners and, one assumes, unaware of the ramifications and seriousness. One could argue there is was a naivety, back then, regarding female fans. They had false hopes and thought they’d get a boyfriend out of it - a famous musician who could take them around the world and give them wealth. It would be odd to think, say, a fan of Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift would wait after a gig and have that same dream: get them into bed and hope they are their ‘muse’.
If anything; the business of sexual misadventure and lacking consent has moved from the mainstream – when that sex-drugs-and-rock mantra was something to aspire to – to the underground. The artists being accused right now are not your big names and celebrated bands – like Queens of the Stone Age, Shame and IDLES, for instance. I may be naïve myself but I HOPE none of these acts has, for a minute, have given into weakness: I think about bands like The Rolling Stones, Mötley Crüe and know that rotation of orgies, drug-taking and molestation was all part of the lifestyle. Things are cleaner and less vile than they were back in those times. It is odd how movements like #MeToo have made us revaluate that viewpoint. How many of us, until recently, looked at Rock artists, back then, as laddish heroes who had girls/women lined up to pleasure them; living the dream and embracing that hedonistic pleasure?! I, myself, have looked at those classic bands and wondered how easy their lives were. They had everything on a plate and did not have to worry about any ramifications or questioning. That is what I was taught growing up: the biggest and best bands lived music and sex all the time; post-gig rituals included signing girls’ breasts and getting a few of them into the tour bus.
I am not suggesting there can ever be a purification of music: the fact the last of the demeaning and idiotic abusers need to be outlawed and banned is urgent and vital. In some ways, we are a more united and proactive society than the 1960s and 1970s. Social media means millions can share their stories and bring musicians to task. We can all get involved and ensure those culpable do not get away with things. There is still that issue of doubt and credibility – some women do not think their truth will be believed and given credit – but we are seeing action and change happening. Given what has happened in Hollywood lately: can the music industry afford to sit back and assume there is nothing to worry about?! There are enough issues in music without having to deal with a barrage of sexual abuse claims. Musicians, now, need to be aware actions like that will not be tolerated. Even if a fan wants to have sex and expose themselves – it should be down to the artist to rebuke that and not take advantage. It might have been desirable and promoted decades go: in an age where gender equality is on everyone’s radar; music needs to clean up and learn from mistakes of the past. Cases are coming to light of musicians abusing fans and assuming they could act the same way as their forefathers did: getting their rocks off with fans and doing whatever they want to. The music industry is much safer and less salacious than it was back in the 1960s. There is not the same rampant groupie culture; there are far fewer cases of big stars having their way with young fans – many of them below the age of consent. Doing the minimum is not acceptable: any musicians found wandering off the path of morality need to have more than their knuckles rapped. We need to make sure music is an open environment and does not create fear; musicians do not abuse their powers and infractions are dealt with in an expeditious and effective manner. In essence; we need to ensure music is a…
SAFE space for everyone.