On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times published a report detailing multiple allegations of 44-year-old singer-songwriter Ryan Adams exhibiting “a pattern of manipulative behavior in which Adams dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex.” Seven women went on the record, including indie artist Phoebe Bridgers; Adams’ ex-wife, the actor Mandy Moore; and a 20-year-old woman identified as “Ava.” The latter was 14 at the time of the alleged sexual coercion and recalled being pressured by Adams to send explicit photos—a felony in both her home state of Ohio and Adams’s then-residence of New York.
Soon after the story broke, Adams posted a series of Tweets apologizing for his “mistakes,” calling the NY Times piece “inaccurate,” and stating that “some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false.” The following day, the FBI initiated a criminal investigation into the claims made by Ava: the Crimes Against Children Squad is now searching to obtain some of the text messages shared between Ava and Adams over their two-year correspondence, which may require subpoenaing their cell phone records. (On Friday, Adams’s forthcoming album was pulled by Universal Music Group pending the investigation.)
In the two days since the news broke of Adams’ alleged abuse, public response has included critiques of the sensitive indie rock star trope that protects men like Adams, and the rare commentator who chose to downplay the severity of the accusations, including one writer who invoked the outlandishly misogynistic idea that Great Works are made only by Damaged Men. On those terms, Adams’s alleged behavior—which includes threatening suicide if women didn’t respond to his texts, telling a child “If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol,” and gaslighting women to the point where they no longer wanted to make music—are all just symptoms of genius, tortured artistry.
What I haven’t seen much of, at least publicly, is genuine shock. There are new revelations in the report, but accusations of psychologically abusive behavior by Adams have been well-documented.
Mandy Moore, in almost every interview she’s given since her divorce to Adams, has spoken about how unpleasant their marriage was, though often in somewhat guarded language. In December 2018, she told Bustle:
When I think back to that particular time period that we’re talking about... It was heavy. It was dark. It was confusing. It was lonely. There was no room for me. There was no room for me to have anything else in my life. I put all the emphasis and pressure on, well, I can just dig myself out of this hole by finding fulfillment strictly from a career perspective.
When they divorced in 2015, Moore cited irreconcilable differences. Publicly, the split gave the appearance of an inevitability, a poor match from the start: he’s a demanding indie producer, she’s a frivolous pop star. It would never work. (It’s notable that Adams himself framed the decline of the relationship in these same condescending and misogynistic terms. Looking back, it seems that the public had been instructed to view the relationship through his lens all along.)
Indie artist Phoebe Bridgers’s single “Motion Sickness,” one of her best-known tracks, describes a toxic relationship between her and an older man. She sings, “You said when you met me you were bored / And you were in a band when I was born,” and “I hate you for what you did / And I miss you like a little kid / I fake it every time but that’s alright / I can hardly feel anything / I hardly feel anything at all,” which she explicitly revealed to NPR affiliate KCRW in 2017 as “a song I wrote about Ryan Adams.”
The lyrics, one-and-a-half years before the Times report on Adams’s alleged abuse gave them fuller context, spoke to something amorphous and sinister: the way that men use age, status, and success to coerce, the ambivalence women caught in abusive patterns can feel, and the hurt that can become indifference and later, numbness. In the wake of these allegations, I wonder and worry about the women who say they were made to feel so insignificant by Adams’s manipulative mediocrity, they stopped making music. Think of the great art we could’ve had.