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Music Industry Abuse

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Article by: Stacy McWilliams

Content warning: mentions of abuse, sexual assault, homophobia

When we talk about abuse in the music industry there are many different types of abuse to consider. Is it physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault? Knowing that each of these can and do happen in the music industry is horrifying enough, but making artists continue to work with their abusers, under abusive contracts or coercing people into signing NDA’s about their experiences, means that there is a very dark side to the music industry. 

Many celebrities face the abuse of management through control, coercion and harsh clauses in their contracts, for example Harry Styles spoke out about cleanliness clauses determining what the members of One Direction were permitted to do and things that would cause a breach of their contracts, such as drugs, too much alcohol or other things that we can only guess at since they have only been hinted at and not disclosed. Harry stated that he was happier to sign his new contract with his current management because he felt freer, but as fans we can’t help but notice that while Harry’s style is much more effeminate and he can help others come out, he’s still held back, whether by contract or personal choice in stating his own label. He obviously doesn’t owe fans or the general public any label, and he has stated that he is unlabeled, but many solo fans or casual fans take this to confirm he’s straight. As a result of his marketing and his very high profile, public ‘relationships’ he’s often accused by those in the queer community and beyond of queerbating, rather than queercoding.

Another example of management abuse has come to light when Lauren Carter, wife of Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys has stated that management had control over the date of their wedding and it couldn’t go ahead without management approval. This was supported in a recent statement by Dove Cameron’s ex who stated that PR people controlled their relationship and actually got involved to boost ratings and got involved in every single aspect of their relationship including engagement announcements, shows that this is common in Hollywood and the music industry. 

Britney Spears is another example of coercive control. Her father exerted control through a conservatorship and she wasn’t allowed to make decisions for herself which is an appalling state of affairs, but in the music industry, that’s just Tuesday. Fans of Britney had noticed this and were gaslighted by those in the music industry and media outlets who called the fans conspiracy theorists and refused to acknowledge the damage that this was doing to Britney. 

Another level of abuse is seen in the fact that lawyers, like those involved with One Direction, came on board with Modest management and are still their legal representation to this day. We don’t know for certain how closely the lawyers worked with Modest, but what we suspect is that the boys are still tied to those very early contracts and that a lot of those initial clauses were written to ensure they would last, in perpetuity, in every universe, for eternity. This is a clear form of abuse since they made themselves company directors and potentially could be a massive conflict of interest since  the lawyers wouldn’t be able to offer impartial advice. Further, Katie Waisel stated that her own legal representation for her contract negotiations with Modest management were with lawyers who worked in the very same office as Modest, so it’s clear that underhand tactics and backroom deals meant that artist’s get a raw deal when signing with both management companies and record labels. 

While looking into the abuse of music artists I asked for help from fellow Directioners. Many videos were shared, along with interview transcripts and abuse of the boys through the media and during interviews. My heart broke at the sight of those young baby-faced boys being asked totally inappropriate questions, being touched suggestively, without care or respect for their boundaries or being sexually assaulted on camera. 

I watched one interview with B105, an Australian interview with Liam and Louis, where the boys were asked if they are good in bed, asked about whether they were cut or uncut, asked who from the band has hooked up with fans and/or journalists. These questions were completely inappropriate and the female interviewer was actually asked to back off from Louis during the interview. She then proceeded to pass him her phone number while on camera, even while knowing that he was apparently with someone else. This is just one example of management failing to do their duty and protect their clients from this level of invasive, intrusive questioning. 

That’s not even the worst I witnessed being done to Louis. On one occasion Louis was sexually assaulted by an interviewer on the red carpet as someone ran over and kissed him without his consent or prior knowledge and the person who did this boasted about it on camera, laughing and joking with fans that he’d kissed Louis. On another occasion during an interview Louis was groped (along with Harry) by a female interviewer as she searched their pockets for a phone. She then draped herself over his shoulder and remained there even as Louis shifted in clear discomfort. Another way that could potentially be considered abuse of Louis was when Simon Cowell made him fly to LA after the One Direction boys performed at GAY London. Louis has stated that he was flown across the Atlantic for a personal dressing down as he was drunk, but if this is true it’s a very excessive response to a young guy being slightly tipsy on stage. 

Harry, on the other hand, was the market while in the band as the womaniser/ sex symbol of the One Direction boys. He was linked with older women from the age of 16/17 and has apparently slept with half the female population. This has been discussed numerous times in interviews, yet Harry has been steadfast in stating that this kind of representation of who he is couldn’t be further from the truth. It was brought up again at the Grammy’s this year, where Harry attended with only his management team and co-writers, one of whom groped Harry by grabbing his bum on camera on the red carpet. 

This wasn’t the first time Harry has been groped on camera by fans or interviewers or colleagues. He has also been the one who interviewers were extremely inappropriate with, in comments, touches or questions. Examples of this range from being asked to kiss the interviewer on camera on the red carpet or having to dance with the interviewer during another interview. There have been many, many interviewers who have flirted with Harry such as when one interviewer continuously touched him and got him to dance with her on stage during a live interview. Harry appeared extremely uncomfortable and actually left the stage before the interview ended and this is just one example.  In many interviews the discomfort was written all over his face, and this was allowed, encouraged even with  little regard to how this would impact on Harry’s mental health. 

Another facet of the abuse of Harry was in making him perform during extreme illness. He would still perform when he was vomiting on stage, but worse was during a performance in London when Harry was literally gasping for breath and using his shoulders and accessory muscles to be able to breathe. As a nurse I cannot express how horrified I was seeing this footage because if I saw someone breathing like that I’d be urging them to go to the hospital for treatment. Modest should have had a duty of care to their acts, but as we know they didn’t take proper care of their acts. Rebecca Ferguson has spoken about how she was told to pretend to be well so she could fly, or Jesy Nelson who has stated publicly that she was injected with numerous painkillers to enable her to perform, not to mention the use of adrenaline which I’ve written about before and will link at the bottom if you are interested in reading more about its use and consequences of the unmonitored use of adrenaline.

Further, in an interview with GQ the interviewer cornered Harry as he waited on Liam and Zayn and coerced an answer about how many people he’d slept with. This is another example of management failing in their duty to protect their clients from inappropriate questions during interviews. 

On top of that we have Liam last year on Logan Paul where he was fed alcohol to loosen his tongue and then left with an almighty backlash that almost cost him his life. Liam was hounded off social media and later admitted that he contemplated suicide as a result of how he was made to feel. Liam has also once again, in recent days confirmed that while in one direction the boys were locked inside hotel rooms and not allowed to leave. Liam admitted that this was one of the main catalyst for his development of a drinking problem because there was nothing else for them to do other than drink to bring themselves down from the often overwhelming high of performing. 

Zayn has stated that he developed an eating disorder and struggled with many aspects of being a member of One Direction, especially when management wouldn’t listen to his ideas and his worries over his image or deal with the racism Zayn faced. Zayn’s marketing as the mysterious, quiet one couldn’t have been easy to deal with, especially since it made him an easier target for racists and opened him up to more abuse.  Further, an example of abuse that Zayn and the other boys suffered was captured during This Is Us when Zayn was woken up after only ten minutes sleep to record something for the album and, to me, it just shows that management cared so little about letting the boys rest between shows that they had them recording albums while on the road. 

Niall on the other hand has dealt with sexual assault on camera where people were pinching his bum and this wasn’t stopped. Another way in which Niall was abused was through the delay of treatment of his knee injury which has in turn left him with long term damage and will undoubtedly cause him problems throughout his life. Further, in a recent interview Niall was handed a piece of paper telling him to button his shirt up. This was handed over by management and is another example of how controlled these men still are to this day. 

Fans have long suspected that management  control dictated that Harry and Louis stop communicating, stop touching in interviews and eventually stop looking at each other. There are many videos where one makes eye contact with the other and they glance off screen before dropping their gaze with the pain evident across their expressions. Further, in one clip of the boys in concert Harry appears to ask to hug Louis and you can clearly see the manager saying no, that Harry can shake his hand. In an earlier video Harry is sad and Louis automatically goes to comfort him, but clearly isn’t allowed and both boys brush it off, but the anguish is visible. Moments like these happened too often to be random and knowing how much control management had, it makes sense that this was another level of control ensuring that the boys just weren’t allowed to interact. 

Another incident which happened on camera during 1D day in 2013 was Harry drinking Thai boba iced tea. Harry takes a sip and doesn’t enjoy it so he goes to pass the cup to someone else behind him. Louis reaches forward and almost as soon as he does everyone jumps. Louis withdraws his hand staring off screen with a worried expression, Harry turns back around, Liam withdraws his hands from the back of Harry’s chair and puts both his hands up in a placating gesture, Niall touches his in ears and Zayn gives Louis a sympathetic shrug. Due to the immediacy of their responses it’s clear that something was shouted through their in ears, but each boys face betrays their confusion, alarm and fear. What was the reason? Was Louis taking a drink from Harry really worth causing that reaction on camera? I’ll add the video to the bottom of the article and you can judge for yourself, but it’s heartbreaking to witness that Harry and Louis appear so controlled by management that they couldn’t even interact as simply friends while on camera. 

Another video shows a clearly solo Harry stating that he’s tired and someone off camera saying, and I quote, “we don’t give a shit.” Harry’s face shows discomfort and he immediately apologises which is ridiculous because he’s human and is allowed to feel tired. In a different video it shows a solo Louis in an interview where management begin banging on the door and Louis noticeably becoming more nervous and anxious. He looks, in my opinion, almost scared to continue as he asks those behind the camera for permission to answer the interview questions. It’s horrific to watch as his whole demeanor changes and although he tries to laugh it off, he’s clearly uncomfortable. 

It’s very well known that boy band members can and will be abused, but to see the abuse happening on camera as fans watch is almost worse because the management companies don’t seem to care at all. Labels don’t seem to care at all because they get away with it, time and time again. This has happened over and over again, over decades and when the victims of abuse fight back they are belittled, blacklisted or dropped. 

We, in the older generation, watched as two of the biggest boybands of our generation took one of their abusers to court and if you watch the Boyband Con, you can see how and why this happens. People like Lou Pearlman are out there and still have massive amounts of control over boybands and their members, but labels have a formula that they utilise to sell records and any band who wants to succeed is forced to follow along the given path or they are shelved. 

People like JoJo have spoken out about being prohibited from making music for years since she was fighting her against her label. Others like Kesha have been forced to continue working with the person who either sexually assaulted them or facilitated this sexual assault. The Me Too movement needs to happen in music because it’s time all of these different abusers were called out, especially now that people like Dan Wooten are being investigated as more allegations surface around his behaviour over the years and many people are hoping that he becomes accountable for his crimes. There are, however many, many more who need to be held to account, especially people like Howard Stern and Logan Paul who try to humiliate, abuse and belittle their guests for traffic. 

Adele has spoken out about how as she got bigger her social media was completely taken over by management and this gives credence to those who believe that none of the One Direction boys had full control over their social media. This is another form of abuse and led to a tweet being posted from Louis’ account to his former ‘girlfriend’ when there is evidence posted from Liam that he was actually asleep on an airplane. Further this can also alienate musicians from their fans and make them seem much more untouchable and out of reach, which is another way to isolate artists since they can’t even speak to the very people who make their jobs possible. 

What gives record labels and management companies the right to micromanage their artists’ private lives? What gives labels the right to closet artists, to force narratives on their musicians and force them to date for PR? Contracts are weighted so the beneficiaries of them are the labels, lawyers and management companies involved. Managers often take a cut of a singer’s income, even after they have parted ways or the contract between the label and singer has ended. This is known as a sunset clause and allows managers a percentage of earnings from the acts that were currently or formally signed to labels facilitated by the management team. 

We, as fans, need to hold these people to account, share and share articles showing this abuse and make sure that the artists know we are behind them. The kind of abuse that has occurred over the last however many years needs to stop. Musicians shouldn’t have to sign contracts that closet them, force them to date for PR or force their hand to get engaged just to sell music and we shouldn’t listen to gossip or share clear PR relationships because then the PR teams win. 

Further, as fans, call out abuse when you see it. Share it widely and let’s stop our favourite artists being abused. It’s time that the glitzy golden curtain came down and people saw the horror, the depravity and the abuse behind the scenes. 


Thanks for reading


Links of interviews/red carpet/evidence

Harry Struggling to breathe on stage



Harry GQ interview 


Harry being called a womaniser by the press




Harry and Louis being separated physically



Louis denying Larry Stylinson 



Niall’s Mic being turned off



B105 Interview



Harry telling management he’s tired



Zayn being Racially abused by Piers Morgan 



Louis not being allowed to comfort Harry on camera



Louis being slapped on the butt by a fan 



Louis management banging on the door during this interview (timestamp 6:06) He was also made to talk about his grief and how to cope with it during this interview. 



Jojo discussing her label abuse



Harry groped at the Grammy awards



Harry asked to kiss an interviewer during Red Carpet interview



Louis kissed on the red carpet by reporter



Louis during this morning segment 



Louis flown to LA for meeting with Simon


Britney Conservatorship




Adele and Social Media



Music Management companies aren’t working



Byline Times on Dan Wootton



No Stunts Adrenaline article



Liam discussions around mental health



Liam discussing how One Direction could have killed him if it didn’t end



Liam talking about being locked in hotel rooms



Harry passing Louis tea during One D day (time stamp 5:02, but watch 7:42 when Louis moves away from beside Harry as well) 


The boyband con (it’s a long watch but absolutely worth it) 


Harry dancing with the interviewer and then leaving the stage 




Sunset clauses 



Zayn being woken up 


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