A Music Industry Blackout Is in Effect, But Who Benefits?

Members of the music industry are currently participating in a business day blackout as part of an initiative called The Show Must Be Paused, which according to a website for the campaign, encourages people to essentially stop conducting business. The goal is to “intentionally disrupt the work week... in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard.”

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The website states that two black women—Jamila Thomas, a senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, senior artist campaign manager at Platoon—created the initiative “in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black citizens at the hands of police.” The site also provides links to resources for organizations that help bail out protesters and to directly support the families of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery.

So far, a few prominent music companies have supported the campaign through statements of solidarity and vague promises: Interscope Geffen has vowed to halt new releases for the week and instead “contribute to organizations that help bailout protesters exercising their right to peaceably assemble, aid lawyers for systemic change, and provide assistance to charities focused on creating economic empowerment in the Black community.” Still, it’s unclear just how much they’re donating. Capitol Records also announced it would make a donation to the nonprofit Color of Change, but again, did not state a dollar amount. Def Jam Recordings explained in a statement: “Today, and throughout the week, we are honoring the wishes of our artists who have asked that we pause in the release, marketing and promotion of their music. Others are rushing to make their voices heard, and we intend to amplify them.”

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As Pitchfork reports, other companies, like Sony, Columbia, and Spotify, made no promise of participation outside of announcing that they, too, would go dark or silent on Tuesday as a sign of solidarity.

Naturally, the inaction has inspired criticism on top of confusion. If the music industry has long benefited from and exploited the contributions of black art, how does a day of silence with no clearcut follow-up benefit the movement? Surely, organizing an action—like mass donations and shared resources, something that politicizes the actions of these music companies—could have a much more direct impact? And of course, the labels and streaming giants that have profiteered from the work of black artists would love to contrive the message and turn it into doing the bare minimum: throwing up a black square on Instagram in lieu of nonprofit links.

Artists like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Normani have blacked out their social media in support. But since many supporters have been using #BlackLivesMatter and #BLM hashtags in Instagram posts, the initiative has cluttered search results, effectively burying relevant information.

Kehlani was among those who initially raised concerns:

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Lil Nas X also weighed in:

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The Show Must Be Paused website assures, “This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul. A plan of action will be announced.” Let’s see which companies will continue to participate when more action is demanded of them.

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Jezebel has reached out to Thomas and Agyemang and will update this post if we hear back.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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