The Ryan Adams allegations are the tip of an indie-music iceberg | Laura Snapes

So-called alternative musicians pride themselves on being more enlightened than their rock counterparts, but in my years of writing about them, I have found no end of ‘beta male misogyny’

I wish I could say I was surprised by the New York Times report detailing allegations that the singer-songwriter Ryan Adams offered to mentor young women, before pursuing them sexually and turning nasty after they turned him down. His ex-wife, the musician and actor Mandy Moore, described him as “psychologically abusive”. When the musician Phoebe Bridgers began a relationship with Adams after he offered to mentor her – at the time he was 40, she 20 – she said he quickly became emotionally abusive and manipulative, “threatening suicide” if she didn’t reply to his texts immediately.

Stories like these are eminently familiar to me and many other women who work in the music industry. Surely to men, too, although if they talk about them, it’s rarely to us women. The industry has been slower to reckon with its abusers post-#MeToo than other art forms, partly because it is built on a generally permissive culture of excess and blurred lines between work and leisure – but also because the myth of the unbridled male genius remains at its core. The male genius is the norm from which everyone else deviates. He sells records, concert tickets and magazines. And because he resembles most of the men who run the industry, few of them are in any hurry to act when he is accused of heinous behaviour, lest their own actions come into question.

The concept of male genius insulates against all manner of sin. Bad behaviour can be blamed on his prerequisite troubled past. His trademark sensitivity offers plausible deniability when he is accused of less-than-sensitive behaviour. His complexity underpins his so-called genius. As I wrote for this paper in 2015: “Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of ‘difficult’ artists, [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.” This was after, in response to an interview request, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek told a crowd that I was a “bitch” who wanted to have his babies. Note, too, how many female geniuses are dismissed as divas, their art depicted as a symptom of disorder, their responses to mistreatment and calls for respect characterised as proof of an irrational nature.

The independent-music culture of which Adams is a longstanding figurehead prides itself on being different to rock: more sensitive; feminist, even. But this can curdle into a more insidious form of toxic masculinity – what music website the Quietus referred to as “beta male misogyny”, after Ariel Pink told a journalist: “Beta males have got it figured out so that they don’t have to chase or rape their prey.” Because indie rock considers itself culturally progressive – unlike rock with its concomitant outrageousness – it rarely takes well to being called out, and takes great pains to protect its brand, which depends on an impression of sensitivity.

To this end, publicists for male indie stars ask for guarantees that allegations and evidence of an artist’s bad behaviour aren’t referred to in interviews, and often receive those guarantees. Managers intimidate women at public events because they don’t like the way they have written about their male charges. Music magazine editors sideline female employees who raise red flags when plans are made to cover well-known creeps. Publications continue to write about men outed as beasts once the heat has died down – having profited from clicks on righteous op-eds at the time of the outing – and venues continue to book them, disregarding protests.

Beta male misogyny is a musician repeatedly emailing me asking to be his “antagonist pen pal” even though he knows I dislike him. It’s another male musician threatening to get me fired because I tweeted a joke about him. Another using the full force of his management to try to make me delete a report about him telling a rape joke at a gig. In just nine years in a supposedly more enlightened industry, I have seen all of this. To be clear, these infractions are minuscule, but legion, and the tip of an iceberg visible from space.

Misogyny is also a band and label refusing to eject an offending male musician because they don’t see the big deal. It is a man putting obstacles in the way of a former partner who seeks to release new music. It is praise being lavished upon male musicians who make obvious statements about masculinity and sexism, and the women who have been saying those things for years being asked why they’re so angry. It is men being dismissed from high-profile positions for sexual misdemeanours and walking straight into similar roles. It is major publications not reviewing Taylor Swift’s album 1989 – too pop, too disposable – but lavishing space on Ryan Adams’s tedious song-by-song cover of it.

It is, in the words of the New Statesman critic Anna Leszkiewicz, women doing “the boring work of killing our idols” – the male artists who let us down time after time – while male predators kill the dreams of the young women who admire them. Two women in the NYT’s report about Adams say that their interactions with him extinguished their desire to ever make music again. If the allegations are true, these women – and probably thousands more with similar stories about other men – are the collateral damage of a protectionist industry whose power brokers operate out of fear of their own irrelevance. It is pathetic.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Musicians voice concern over Ryan Adams' abuse allegations
Adams’ guitarist Todd Wisenbaker is one of a number of musicians to condemn the singer-songwriter, who has said accusations of abuse and harassment are ‘inaccurate’

Steph Harmon

20, Feb, 2019 @6:21 PM

Article image
On the Record review – chilling exposé on #MeToo and the music industry
Misogyny, hip-hop culture and the silencing of women of colour are delicately unpicked in a devastating documentary

Peter Bradshaw

25, Jun, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ryan Adams and the musical silencing of Mandy Moore
After marrying Adams, the This Is Us actor stopped releasing music completely. Now she’s making a comeback

Maura Johnston

01, Mar, 2019 @1:00 PM

Ryan Adams: Chains of Love - video

Ryan Adams performs an acoustic version of Chains of Love, from his upcoming album Ashes & Fire

23, Sep, 2011 @6:51 AM

Article image
R Kelly, Michael Jackson and Bryan Singer. Who knew? Everyone
Beset by allegations of predatory and abusive behaviour – including rape – the film director retains support in the film industry while he continues to bring in the money

Marina Hyde

31, Jan, 2019 @5:55 PM

Ryan Adams: 'Things got broken and I couldn't fix them'

Ten years ago, he was alt-country's biggest star. Then he trashed his own career. But his latest album could be his best yet. Ryan Adams talks to Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

22, Sep, 2011 @8:30 PM

Article image
The Assistant review - #MeToo drama offers unsettling study of day-to-day abuse | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
Film about assistant to a New York film mogul details how stress, humiliation and bullying become the enablers for abuse by powerful men

Peter Bradshaw

30, Apr, 2020 @10:06 AM

Article image
Caroline Polachek: 'Women in music are taught that once you’re 35, you’ve expired'
After 12 years in the Brooklyn indie band Chairlift – and a magic mushroom epiphany – Polachek has produced one of the year’s finest experimental pop albums

Laura Snapes

17, Oct, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
A footballer's hair, some pylons, a squidgy star – REVIEWED
Every Friday, we review things that desperately need appraising but seldom receive the critical treatment they deserve. We also review things that really don’t need appraising at all. We’ll review your suggestions, too – suggest in the comments or @guideguardian

Luke Holland, Rachel Aroesti , Gwilym Mumford, Paul MacInnes & Charlie Jones

25, Sep, 2015 @12:01 PM

Article image
Ryan Adams joins the Lemonheads on new album
Singer to produce and perform on 'punker'-sounding record that will see Evan Dando reunite with co-founder Ben Deily

Sean Michaels

19, Sep, 2012 @9:57 AM