Screenshot: Justin Bieber / What Do You Mean? (Official Music Video) / Youtube
In 2018, inspired by the #MeToo movement and an onslaught of allegations of sexual abuse against powerful men in the film industry, a large group of women in Hollywood came forward to create Time’s Up. The intent was - through the public activism and sizeable donations of these famous people - to change the culture of sexual abuse that permeates most workplaces, including their own.
While the film industry worked to expunge itself of abusers - from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K - the music industry fumbled. Very few popular artists came forward in support of the Time’s Up movement, and when the magnifying glass was turned towards people in their own industry, even fewer were willing to stand against abusers.
Twitter blew up recently when two young women came out with allegations of rape against Justin Bieber. The horrific stories they shared shed light on the dangerous power dynamic that exists between pop stars and fans and how easily that power can be abused, but will they change anything?
Although not enough time has passed to know how exactly these allegations will impact Justin Bieber’s career, I feel like it’s safe to say that he’ll be fine. Other artists will still feature him on their songs, producers will still clamber over themselves to work with him, people will still stream his music and his fans will still rabidly defend him until their dying breath.
I feel safe making that guess because we’ve seen it all before.
We’ve seen XXXTentacion (posthumously) break streaming records, top the Billboard charts and win AMAs, despite the fact that he had been charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering.
We’ve seen the way the children who, with an abundance of evidence, accused Michael Jackson of prolonged sexual abuse were torn to shreds by millions of people who didn’t want to feel guilty when they listened to “Thriller.” Even a decade after Michael Jackson’s death, people are still unwilling to believe his now adult alleged victims, who have suffered a lifetime of trauma, not just from the sexual abuse but from the way the world turned against them.
We’ve seen 6ix9ine debut at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, despite the fact that he is on probation for engaging in sexual acts with a 13-year-old.
We’ve even seen it before with Justin himself - allegations of girls being drugged and photos of fans being groped at meet and greets have been around for years, but Justin has had continued success, regardless.
Even when the victims aren’t unknown, vulnerable people but famous, powerful women in the industry themselves, it still doesn’t seem like the music industry is willing to stand behind them in support.
In 2014, pop singer Kesha sued music producer Dr. Luke for sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Although she garnered support from a few other big female artists - Taylor Swift notably donated $250,000 towards Kesha’s legal expenses and Lady Gaga defended Kesha during her deposition in the trial - Kesha ultimately did not win her case and was not dismissed from her contract, so Dr. Luke still profited from her future albums (many of the songs on which reference the trauma she suffered, presumably, at his hands). Since this very public trial, a huge number of artists have continued to work with Dr. Luke, and this year he earned his first number 1 since the legal battle, with “Say So” by Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj.
In 2009, police described the injuries that Rihanna faced at the hands of then boyfriend Chris Brown as “horrific.” Despite the public’s love for Rihanna and her music, and despite a continued pattern of violence towards women, Chris Brown has gone on to release seven more albums since 2009, collaborate with a multitude of other artists and star in a Netflix documentary about his life, asking us to respect him.
The #MeToo movement, it seems, simply cannot get any traction within the music industry. While victims’ careers, credibility and mental health suffer, abusers continue to have commercial and critical success, they continue to win awards and break records, and they continue to have the support of other artists, producers, record labels and fans alike.
Why? Why hasn’t there been the same public reckoning that we saw in the film industry? Why haven’t big names in the industry banded together to protect victims and do something about the dangerous power that these men wield?
Is it because the music industry is more individualistic - more “every man for himself” - than the film industry? Is it because fans tend to idolise musicians more than they do actors, putting them on a pedestal and never taking them off? Is it because the loose idea of groupie culture is so ingrained in music lore that it’s impossible for us to see a sexual encounter between a musician and a fan as anything other than consensual?
In truth, I don’t know the answers. It’s probably a combination of all of the above and more. But what I do know is this: it needs to change. We need to believe and support victims, rather than the people in power. We need to know when to cut our losses rather than blindly supporting musicians no matter what they do or say.
Of course, I can’t know for sure whether the allegations against Justin Bieber are true. But his response to those allegations - a series of tweets that claimed allegations against him were “factually impossible” which drove his fans to bully his accuser into deleting her Twitter, using his famous ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, who he cheated on and emotionally abused, as an alibi for his rape allegations, and filing lawsuits against his accusers to the tune of $10 million dollars each - is in my view unforgivable. Justin Bieber is a powerful man, and he is clearly prepared to use that power, even if it may cause harm to vulnerable people.
Why do we let him? Because we want to listen to “Yummy” guilt-free? I’ll pass.Support Villainesse