Music News: Jessica Hopper on Ryan Adams, exploitation, and how to create safer spaces in music

Ryan Adams performs at SXSW, 2016.
Ryan Adams performs at SXSW, 2016. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
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Jessica Hopper on Ryan Adams, exploitation, and how to create safer spaces in music
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Above, listen to an episode of The Current's daily Music News podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for a daily Music News e-mail and join our Facebook group.


On Wednesday, the New York Times published a story reporting several women's accounts of emotional abuse and sexual manipulation by singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. A number of female musicians, including Phoebe Bridgers and Adams's ex-wife Mandy Moore, have stepped forward to share their experiences. Many of their accounts describe Adams, 44, promising these women (one of whom was a minor during the time of their correspondence) career opportunities, then leveraging the situations for sexual favors.

Adams denies the accusations. On Twitter, Adams wrote, "I am not a perfect man and I have made many mistakes," but asserted that details in the article are "misrepresented," "exaggerated," and "outright false." On Thursday, the Times reported that the FBI has opened an inquiry into Adams's reported explicit communications with a woman who was underage at the time.

For today's episode of our Music News Podcast, Jay Gabler talked with music writer Jessica Hopper. Hopper has served as senior editor at Pitchfork and music editor at Rookie, as well as publishing two books, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and the memoir Night Moves. Throughout her career Hopper has reported on the issues of sexual harassment and marginalization of people of color in music, from emo's reductive attitude towards women to the sexual assault accusations against R. Kelly. In our interview, she described the pervasive exploitation of power within the music industry, and the actions needed to "make music a safer space for everyone involved."

"The aspect of manipulation that these women speak about in the article is incredibly commonplace, of men — and it's not always just men — leveraging access and influence for sexual favors," said Hopper. "Basically this really creepy quid pro quo of, 'Yeah, I'll get you this opportunity or I'll introduce you to this person or I'll pass your demo,' but there is this sexual favor required. If that isn't forthcoming, then those opportunities disappear, that mentorship dries up."

While conversations around exploitation or manipulation in music are becoming more commonplace, Hopper explained that these issues aren't new, or even exclusive to music. "This is not a new conversation," said Hopper. "I'm 42, and I've been writing about this and talking about this since I was 16 years old and Xeroxing my fanzine at the Kinkos in Uptown Minneapolis."

"This isn't just happening at the highest level," Hopper continued. "There are really concrete actions that people can take and commit to that can radically shift the possibility of these things coming to pass and make music a safer space for everyone involved. To commit to accountability is the mere basic minimum of what people can and should be doing." Examples of these concrete actions include demanding zero tolerance policies and safer space trainings from local venues, and increasing transparency at record labels to make them more accessible.

"I think that it's really great that we're having richer conversations about what's appropriate," said Hopper. "For so long, things have been written off. We've had 50 years of, 'This is just how it is, take it or leave it, this is the price of entry.' That price of entry is far too high."


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
Uncan: "Keeping Track" (CC BY-NC 4.0)

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