On Wednesday night, Twitter Moments alerted me that “Musician Ryan Adams denies claims of sexual misconduct from Mandy Moore and other women.” Here, perfectly synthesized in eighty-seven characters, were two unsurprising things: that long-rumored asshole (and North Carolina native) Ryan Adams was indeed an asshole, and that he was being given the microphone ahead of his accusers.
The New York Times reported on the accounts of multiple women—including Adams’s former wife, Mandy Moore—who described a pattern of sexual coercion and retaliation linked to Adams’s interest in their music. Several women said that they stepped away from music entirely after their relationships or musical partnerships with Adams ended. One, identified as “Ava,” says she was not yet an adult when she began talking to Adams over Twitter. She was a fourteen-year-old bass player. Their DMs grew into a sexually explicit correspondence over text and Skype that ran to 3,217 messages.
Let that number sink in for a second: Imagine being a teenager, exchanging 3,217 texts with a powerful man nearly three times your age. He wants to pay you a compliment, to say that you’re gonna go far. He also wants to see you touch your nipple.
I’ve been listening to Ryan Adams since I was a teenager, coming of age in a slow burn sometime between Love Is Hell and Cardinology. Like Ava, I was homeschooled and fairly isolated, and can well imagine how it would have felt to be sought out. Adams’s music gave me the kind of pangs that made me feel seen. He was also, as I grew to learn over the next decade, a bit of an asshole—or, as Pitchfork once wrote, a “lovable fuck-up.”
But “asshole,” when it comes to male musicians in positions of power, is often code for predatory behavior that gets off on its own complications. Scaffolded around those men is a predominantly male industry of managers, producers, bandmates, and executives who are willing to protect predators, not only by airbrushing a bad image, but also by carefully reinforcing that bad image. Adams’s difficult, unstable personality, after all, was public knowledge. But that made him complicated, maybe even more interesting. A lovable fuck-up.
In 2015, when Adams released his cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989, Pitchfork’s review said that “Swift’s 1989 crackles with life, while Adams has transformed it into … a run-of-the-mill Ryan Adams album.” It’s a worthy enough observation, undercut by the fact that Pitchfork never reviewed Swift’s original. Around the same time, the site also lauded Father John Misty’s mocking, Velvet Underground-style covers of Swift’s “Blank Space” and “Welcome to New York.”
These men weren’t paying homage: The covers seemed intent on exposing Swift as vacuous while supposedly retrofitting her music with depth and a primer on musical history. This is reflective of the approach that, according to Adams’s accusers, made him good at manipulating them: paying attention to their art, but only on his own reductive terms, seeking them out by complimenting their music and offering mentorship, but then binding it up in sexual coercion and, if rejected, a campaign of belittlement.
After the Times piece came out, illustrator and musician Leah Hayes wrote an Instagram post about her experience with Adams in the early 2000s, writing that she had “debated whether or not to publicly add to the chorus of women psychologically/sexually terrorized by Adams” but that she was “not OK.” According to Hayes, Adams, who commissioned her to design an album cover and floated the idea of producing her music, followed the offers with a year of frightening behavior—screaming at her, sending her floods of texts, begging her to leave her boyfriend (Adams was dating Moore at the time), and demanding sexual favors. Worn out, she finally managed to “flee” the partnership.
The allegations against Adams highlight the nuances of predatory behavior: Powerful male artists might not always rape or assault, but they coerce, manipulate, threaten, goad, and abuse their status as a complex genius until women begin to question their own creative value and grasp on reality. It is a thrilling thing to have someone you admire recognize something good inside of you, and it is a devastating thing to slowly realize that the person is only looking at you.
Now that you’ve internalized those 3,217 texts, it’s also time to internalize the fact that, after things with Adams died down, Ava says she “never played another gig.” She was sixteen. (The FBI is now investigating claims related to sexual misconduct with a minor.)
The word “cancel” is particularly in vogue these days, serving as a sweeping, jokey indictment of any cultural figure who suffers a fall from grace. It’s shorthand, and I get it. But something about the word makes me queasy, especially when used in the context of #MeToo allegations. It feels like an oversimplification, a way of quickly striking someone from the record—Tweeted today, gone tomorrow—rather than holding them accountable.
I don’t want to forget Ryan Adams, or lump him into a mass sum of other celebrities who have been written off this year. I want to remember him on the terms of the women that he screwed over: as an abusive creep.
“and that he was being given the microphone ahead of his accusers.”
Wait, wasn’t the article written before his response? How can he respond if his accusers weren’t given the microphone first?
I don’t think he was accused of sexual misconduct by his ex-wife in the article. Others yes, but not by Moore specifically. She speaks of emotional abuse which I think gets a bit tricky since I have yet to see any romantic relationship end without one or both parties feeling emotionally abused in some way or another.
That being said, I’m sure Adams is an asshole and Moore seems like a lovely person and good for her that she got out of that relationship. I’ve just listened to her WTF interview and it seems that she was simply in a textbook version of a co-dependent relationship. As harsh as it sounds, though, at the end of the day there’s still the element of “hey, you picked him/her” when it comes to bad relationships. It’s her right to air out all the issues she had with her ex-husband but they shouldn’t be lumped in with the other types of abusive behaviour by Adams. He should definitely be held accountable for his other alleged transgressions but as far as his messy marriage goes, he was already held accountable the day he was served divorce papers.
What #MeToo has missed so far is an actual effort to bring about structural change that goes beyond simply putting women in powerful positions. Women *should* be put in those positions as a matter of fairness but this will not automatically solve all problems because women are not intrinsically better people than men. As long as the structures allow for a few powerful gatekeepers you will always find power-hungry p
eople striving for those positions and, more often than not, abuse those powers. It might not always be sexual abuse, but abuse nonetheless.
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