Business News Education & Events The Great Escape 2014

How does US dominance affect our ability to combat music misogyny in the UK?

By | Published on Wednesday 14 May 2014

Blurred Lines: The American Dimension

Following discussion of how the UK music industry could adapt to improve its representation of women, in the second part of the pop misogyny strand at The Great Escape last weekend, the focus shifted to the US.

Because while there is a lot that could be done on a practical level to address how women are represented by and certainly within the music industry, given that the tracks and performances that caused most controversy this year mainly came from the US industry, what impact can we have without involving artists and labels from the States? Did the controversy over ‘Blurred Lines’ even register in America, and is there any movement towards change?

Chaired by John Robb, the panel featured four representatives of the US music industry, Adam Lewis of Planetary Group, Friendly Fire Recordings’ Dan Koplowitz, B3SCI’s Mike Clemenza and Atlantic Records A&R Mollie Moore.

“It’s not a big deal at all in America”, said Moore of whether or not the debate over ‘Blurred Lines’ had registered in the US. “And I think it’s pretty sad that that wasn’t a discussion. I agree that there’s a problem with the way pop represents women, and this is something that should be discussed. But I think at this point, it’s going to take a big artist or a senior manager – someone like Irving Azoff – to initiate the debate, to almost do a PR campaign about it: ‘I’m game changing right now. This is why, and this is how’. Someone like Beyonce also has that power, if she wanted to do it”.

Does the US industry have a bigger responsibility than anywhere else, asked Robb. “I think so, 100%”, said Moore. “But I don’t think that this is something people talk about at all in America. Everyone’s just trying to [sell more records] right now, and that’s not easy. So I don’t feel like there’s any attempt to address this problem. I do try to have those conversations, because I care about this, but I’m one of the only girls in that part of the game”.

Lewis and Clemenza agreed that the ‘Blurred Lines’ debate had not really taken off in the US like it had over here. Though Koplowitz disagreed: “I feel this debate has been had in the US. For a while every time I went on Facebook all I saw was new blog posts about this issue”.

He went on: “Though one of my fears is, by talking about [the controversies] so much, are we actually addressing the issue? I think we do have a responsibility to criticise [artists who maybe send out a bad message], but I think we’re only doing half our job if we don’t offer up alternatives too. If all we’re doing is talking about Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, are we doing a disservice to the people who are fighting the good fight? I think you have to lead by example”.

On the question of whether the UK was beholden to the US, he went on: “Our cultural industries mirror each other and play off each other, and I don’t think either of us has a monopoly on misogynist behaviour. I think we have to vote with your dollars. No one of us can stop these videos from being made, but what we can do is shift the conversation and go watch other videos and see other artists live. Any one of us has that limited power”.

In the UK stage of the debate, while most of the panellists felt there were issues to address here, everyone was nervous of actually telling artists and songwriters what they could do or say, because no one wants censorship. Though interestingly Moore – although convinced a big player was needed to truly bring about change in the US – did think that A&Rs like herself could help by challenging certain lyrics. Because simply raising concerns doesn’t have to be interference or censorship.

“In A&R there aren’t many of women”, she said, echoing a point made by her UK counterparts. “So I absolutely feel a responsibly. I try to have conversations with publishers and talk about it. This is our responsibility. [We] work with songwriters who are cracking out these songs, but it’s easy to change one line. It’s easy to change a lyric, and it matters. It really, really matters. I feel like generally there’s a lot of support for [those one-on-one conversations], but there’s isn’t a voice on a higher up level right now, and that would be amazing”.

However, getting that big name voice to take a stand could be difficult, said Koplowitz: “On the level of major label pop music, it does always come down to dollars. If the landscape changed tomorrow, and you could make more money from someone dressed as a nun, that’s what you’d be seeing. It’s not a defence, but that’s the world we live in”.

Listen to the debate in full here:

And read all of our articles on the ‘Blurred Lines’ strand at this year’s Great Escape, and listen to all four sessions in full here.