In the wake of the much needed #MeToo movement, emotional, physical and financial abuse has shown to be both rampant and embedded in the film and television industry. For whatever reason, the music industry seems to have escaped the tsunami of allegations and legal action that these industries have experienced. Not because abuse isn’t there, but because the industry is better at hiding it – less powerful unions, lack of Human Resource departments at independent labels and ineffectual ones at major labels are perhaps a contributing factor.
There have been seemingly “one-off” cases: Kesha and the rape allegations against her previous producer, Dr Luke; Taylor Swift’s sexual assault lawsuit against radio DJ David Mueller; as well as a Rolling Stone article by Marissa R Moss, in which sexual harassment at country radio stations was exposed as being rampant and perhaps most unsettling, ‘business as usual’ and a ‘rite of passage’ for new artists.
Activists within the film industry have created the Time’s Up initiative, which is a fund that actors and those in the entertainment field have financially contributed to, to help fund women’s legal defense cases against sexual harassment and abuse. The music industry is yet to create its sister fund. And apart from Swift, there has been a lack of high-profile singers willing to go on the record about their own experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in the same way Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Rose McGowan have done with regard to Harvey Weinstein.
In amongst the voices of those artists who have come forward about sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry, has been actress and singer Mandy Moore. I say actress and singer in that order because despite Moore starting her career as a singer and not as an actress, Moore has for the last 10 years been largely absent from the music industry.
In 2009 Moore released her critically acclaimed Amanda Leigh, which is an eclectic blend of folk, pop and Americana. And perhaps most importantly, it is Moore’s favourite of all her records. Despite Moore hinting at new music being in the pipeline, no original music appeared. Moore however did appear in the Disney reimagining of Rapunzel, 2010’s Tangled, and more recently, in the critically acclaimed This Is Us for NBC that recently won a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Then in February 2019, it was revealed why Moore had been absent from the music industry for those 10 years and why those hints at new music never came to fruition: Ryan Adams
A New York Times article pulled back the curtain on another “one-off” #MeToo case within the music industry, and this time it involved singer-songwriter, musician and producer, Ryan Adams to whom Moore was married to for seven years in 2009; right after she released Amanda Leigh. The NYT article accused Adams of dangling career opportunities in front of female artists and musicians whilst simultaneously pursuing them for sex and retaliating when they rejected him by withholding already recorded albums or not fulfilling promises of writing and recording sessions.
Dozens of female artists and musicians came forward to describe a familiar pattern of manipulative emotional abuse from Adams; Mandy Moore was one of those artists.
In the article Moore said that ‘Adams discouraged her from working with other producers or managers, effectively leaving him in charge of her music career’. Moore also said he would lord his own artistic accomplishments over her head, telling her, repeatedly, “You’re not a real artist because you don’t play an instrument.” ‘Music was a point of control for him’ said Moore, a sentiment the other women who came forward echoed.
Much like every other man to be accused of late, Adams has denied these claims.
Being prevented from making art when art can often be hard to make and disseminate, particularly for women, is inexcusable. Men are generally the gatekeepers to succeeding in the music industry and Adams was one of those gatekeepers. The usual line in these cases is sympathy for the perpetrator, who has usually been labelled a “genius” by the media, and by extension, society in the past, and how sad it is that their career is has been ruined by the women or girls coming forward or how their future has been taken away from them. There is generally very little concern for their victims or their dreams, aspirations or future that have been destroyed. When Adams abusive activities were blown open by the NYT article, journalist Amy Philips turned this on its head and asked,
“How many lives have been ruined by coercive men and their protectors? How many women stopped working in the music because of them? And how much great music did we lose in turn?”
Mandy Moore, Courtney Jaye, Ruby Amanfu, Karen Elson, Phoebe Bridgers and Ava, the then 15-year-old bassist Adams took under his wing and then sexually harassed, are those artists whose art was blocked or stolen. Moore didn’t make music for 10 years. Amanfu had her album stolen from her. Jaye didn’t make music for over year due to the emotional trauma. And Ava has never picked up her bass again. These are the women and girls whose careers were side-lined. These are the women and girls whose music we lost.
In the wider discussion, which the film industry is having but the music industry seems to be ignoring is both the abuse that seems to be widespread and the issue of the under representation of women in senior roles in the music industry. In the film industry you can see actresses opening production companies, though this is nothing new; Marilyn Monroe was doing this in the 1950s. But the more production companies owned by women and run by women, the likelihood of sexual harassment should be reduced. The same with more women directors, camera operators and sound engineers.
Moore sticking her head above the parapet has given the case, which would otherwise have been ignored or seen as ‘hear-say’ a higher platform than it otherwise would have gotten. It would have been easier for her to stay silent.
In the past five months months, Mandy Moore has taken back that control that was so cruelly taken away from her and has released three new songs from her upcoming album Silver Landings due out on 6 March on Verve Forecast, produced by long-time collaborator Mike Viola. Her husband Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes is also a collaborator as are Nashville’s most sought after songwriters; Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby. Viola also produced Moore’s 2007 and 2009 releases Wild Hope and Amanda Leigh.
The first single ‘When I Wasn’t Watching’ was released in September and ‘I’d Rather Lose’ following in October; the third single ‘Save A Little For Yourself’ was released this week. Like Moore’s previous releases, she has a way of creating music that is honest and deeply introspective but never depressing. Rather it always manages to bring a unique and perhaps hidden perspective to an emotion or an experience that makes you question it. The music itself is part Laurel Canyon, part folk and pop and a little dark Americana. You know when you hear a Mandy Moore song – her breathy expressive vocals, part steely anger and part vulnerability.
‘When I Wasn’t Watching’ is a song that discusses that all too familiar feeling of, ‘How did I get here?’, ‘Who have I become?’ and more importantly, ‘Do I like this person?’
Where was I when this was going down?/ Maybe sleeping in, maybe outta town?// How do I start to retrace the steps/ I haven’t even taken yet/ The fear of what I’m facing in the mirror/ Stops me cold and leaves me here
‘I’d Rather Lose’ is, in Moore’s own words, “the idea of trying to live according to your moral compass, whatever that be.” It is a darker, bluesier song, harking back to the mood of Amanda Leigh.
I’d rather lose/ If the only way to win/ Is by breaking all the rules/ I’d rather lose
‘Save A Little For Yourself’, which was released this week, is about one of the basic principles of love and happiness: you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself.
Save a little for yourself/ Never give it all away// You’ve got a lotta love/ Enough to go round/ Save a little for yourself
Silver Landings like Amanda Leigh looks to be an important album in Moore’s career as an artist. In Moore’s own words, “to me, it’s just about owning my side of the street.”
We may have lost a decade of music from Mandy Moore but we haven’t lost her music forever. “I very much feel like I’m at the helm of the ship now, where I’m stepping back into music completely on my own terms,” says Moore.
*An abridged version of this article appeared in American Songwriter.