“What a way to make music; by building the beat out of the crack of a woman’s bones.” Imani Davis recited those words on Thursday on national television, in a segment of PBS NewsHour. The poet performed her piece, “Platinum” and spoke about the necessity of holding men in music accountable for their abuse.
Throughout the past year, the #MeToo movement has gained momentum, exposing abusers for their actions and giving victims the courage to tell their stories. Despite progress across various industries, the music industry has yet to have its #MeToo moment.
Over the years, news has broken about the actions of various music moguls. In 2009, Chris Brown and Rihanna got into a “public altercation” the night before the Grammy’s leaving Rihanna’s face and arms covered in contusions and bruises. Although Brown served five years probation and community service for the assault, various incidents have been documented of him physically assaulting various women since then. Despite these incidents, Brown continues to release new music, including the 2017 album Heartbreak on a Full Moon, which debuted in the top 5 of the Billboard 200 albums chart and went Platinum.
Earlier this week, Andrea Kelly, ex-wife of R. Kelly, spoke out in an interview with TV One’s Sister Circle talkshow about the abuse that she endured during the couple’s 13-year marriage. Before his relationship with Andrea Kelly, when he was 27, R. Kelly married singer Aaliyah when she was 15. In 2002, the Chicago Police indicted him on 21 counts of child pornography. Numerous women have stepped forward to detail how R. Kelly held them hostage in an abusive cult. Despite the allegations and lawsuits, Kelly has remained largely silent, and has not confessed to any of the claims.
In the light of these headlines, and the changing social landscape around sexual assault, there has been an ongoing conversation about whether we, as consumers, can and should separate the artist from their art. If people enjoy listening to Chris Brown’s music, do his actions matter? Can we sing along to the lyrics if we ignore the violent personal and societal history from which they come?
“Blood can dry into platinum if you let it,” Imani Davis warns. If we let these men’s actions go unchecked, their art becomes embedded into our social fabric. Their music becomes the soundtrack to which we teach ourselves how to love, raise our children.
Can we separate the art from the artist? Davis says no.
“I think that people are drawing too big of a distance between art and the people who create it,” she said on PBS NewsHour. “People are being hurt in the process of making these things that we claim are so beautiful and so worth consuming — hurt by people who really believe that their actions don’t have anything to do with what they produce, and I think those two things are so linked, and we have to be more careful about acknowledging and being attentive to people’s identities and people’s pain. Being someone who makes things and writes, I know that my art is always pulling from my life and always pulling from things that I have experienced, and things that people who I’m very close to have experienced. I feel like it’s not doing those stories justice to just act like art comes out of nowhere, ’cause it doesn’t.”