Generally, ‘well mannered pop stars’ are stifled by this enterprise

The following MBW op / ed is from Rhian Jones, the contributing editor.

In June, RAYE had had enough of being a “polite pop star”. She took to Twitter to vent her frustration that she’d signed a four-album deal with Polydor for over six years – and couldn’t release an album.

Whichever way you look at the situation, it’s clearly unfair and frustrating – and it is undoubtedly a good result that she can now pursue her career independently without being reduced to a set of statistics that a finance department is dissatisfied with.

Much has been written about this, so I won’t go into the specifics of the situation here, but what is worth exploring is the idea that RAYE felt like she needed to be a “polite pop star” first and foremost.

Back in 2017, mega-manager Sarah Stennett gave a passionate speech at Midem on the subject of today’s budget-oriented music industry not allowing the kind of risk-taking that legendary stars like Sid Vicious, Debbie Harry and Keith Richards allowed to flourish.

The thread that connects these names is a spirit of rebellion, she said: “They are usually outsiders, difficult and stubborn, with a very clear vision that seems unorthodox and does not go with it.”

This attitude is often indispensable, added Stennett, in order to fuel culturally groundbreaking things, and is sorely lacking in today’s business.

“If you go into certain offices in the music business today and are not supposed to play along, do this and that, and it is very clear that you are going to bother you, you will surely see consequences,” she continued.

“The company as a whole takes this disruption, youth culture and rebellion as signs of unreliability. I think we all need to be more open as a company. If you want disruptive influencers to lead the way, you have to accept the chaos. “

“The music business as a whole takes disruption, youth culture and rebellion as signs of unreliability.”

Sarah Stenett

RAYE spoke about how stifled she felt on her major label deal on an excellent episode of the Spotify podcast Who We Be. She didn’t want to limit herself to one genre while her label only allowed her to follow one and it wasn’t what she was naturally drawn to (dance when she started out as an R&B artist).

Even so, she did as she was told and played ball until she broke.

I understand the business reasons for this approach. It’s hard to break through in today’s faceless streaming age, where tracks, not artists (unless you’re a superstar) are delivering market share. Dance bangers tend to deliver faster results than, for example, an artist who experiments during the development phase.

Still, the music business often poses as an incubator (and partner) of artist careers, which seems completely insincere if this approach is preferred. As Stennett emphasized, it is the artists who are allowed to be authentic and who are allowed to take risks who have always proven themselves.

There’s one more, more sinister element to this edition of “Polite Pop Star”. Music companies and executives are powerful. They seem to hold the keys to an enchanted kingdom of the superstar that young artists believe will make all their dreams come true.

Young artists will always show themselves at their best, regardless of the unfair and sometimes dangerous situations they find themselves in, for fear of being forgotten and blacklisted within the company.

“Young artists will always be at their best, regardless of the unfair and sometimes dangerous situations they find themselves in, for fear of being forgotten and blacklisted within the company.”

I recently spoke to an artist whose album (self-financed and produced) was banned from publication by her independent label for two years. She says it was partly because of the content, which focused on “female issues” that she was uncomfortable about, but also because she complained about the inappropriate sexual behavior of two artists who were under contract with the label stood (one of whom was a big money maker).

“I think they felt like someone who wasn’t on the team. I see it as a control mechanism to silence myself – and to some extent punish me – for talking about some things that I saw that I thought were wrong, “she said.

Another artist I recently interviewed, who sat on the shelf at a major label for five years, said she was told to “lay as low as possible” to ensure her safety. “I was told to pretend I didn’t exist.”

During this time, she was unable to publish music and was left in abeyance for a significant portion of her twenties – a time when her career should have gained momentum.

Another interviewee, also under contract to a major label, said that the music she wrote herself was ignored, while what was created in the studio with a male producer was not. “I had nothing to say. And when I had something to say, I felt crazy, like I was difficult – all the things a woman is when she says no. “

I have also heard from executives of evidence of this misguided “artist is difficult” attitude.

When the trial of Kesha and Dr. Luke was underway, a US music manager felt the need to point out that “Kesha was always a difficult artist,” which mattered to the extremely detrimental situation she was in the hands of someone else ( which, I would argue, would make everyone act in “difficult” ways).

When RAYE went public with her complaint, another senior female music manager in the UK told me it appeared to be a “mental health problem”. Yes, RAYE talked about how her mental health was suffering, but that wasn’t the problem, it was an understandable response to the difficult situation she was in – ie. the actual problem.

Since leaving the Polydor situation, RAYE told Spotify that she has managed “a literal 180” of not leaving her room for two weeks and feeling grateful and positive about her future.

Although the above examples are all female artists, men are also silenced. However, I would say that there is strong evidence that women are disproportionately affected and could be one of the reasons that there are gender differences in music.

I know the BPI and BRIT Awards are currently conducting an extensive study into the impact of gender on a career as a recording artist in the UK and I hope that the attitudes outlined above will be carefully examined as part of that.

How much rancid behavior on the business side of music is being swept under the rug because artists don’t want to harm their careers, so don’t say anything?

How many artists fail to reach their full potential and miss years of their lives because they live in dictatorial business relationships? This culture is not conducive to the growth, improvement and landing of the industry in the 21st century.

Aside from the “difficult” behavior that could only mean someone is in a shitty situation, I would also argue that it is good for an artist to have strong self-esteem and not be afraid to articulate it because of it is often conducive to good art and cultural development, as Stennett spoke earlier.

“The music business has to do with people, ‘difficulties’, opinions and everything, and that is the attribute that sets it apart from any other product industry.”

(There will of course be artists and people who are really a nightmare to work with and who can make their teams’ work very difficult, but I suspect this is in the minority.)

The music business deals with people, with “difficulties,” opinions and everything, and that is the attribute that sets it apart from any other product industry. Celebrating and supporting these people makes sense both morally and from a long-term business perspective. So why isn’t it done?

BusinessThis article originally appeared in the latest (Q3 2021) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK, which is out now.

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