Is the Music Industry Really a Sexist, Coke-Filled Dystopia?


The music industry does its best to cover up any blemish that might cast it in a negative light, but as with any entity with an obscene amount of influence and a ridiculous amount of resources, there are bound to be a few cracks that can't be concealed. What might one do to hide these imperfections? Incorporate them into the business model, of course. So is the music industry really a sexist, coke-filled dystopia? Yes. A resounding yes.

Possibly the most renowned and well documented fault in the music industry is the rampant drug abuse. Most people associate hard drugs with musicians, so much so that they've been infused together and little is being done to detach the two. The two are essentially attempting to cope with the same existential crisis that nearly every human being experiences — feelings associated with loneliness, euphoria, and death. Though they are two very distinct coping mechanisms, their paths cross much more often than we'd care to admit. Oftentimes, the use of cocaine, heroin, and the like are chalked up to an artist's desire to enhance his or her creative ability. Though this may be true in numerous circumstances, as with DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith, the more likely scenario is that drugs offer an escape, shielding the musician from the intense amount of public scrutiny and pressure inherent in the profession. Too many times this detachment from their reality has resulted in the artist's death.

From the stress of seemingly-incessant touring to the rigid demands of record labels, a musician experiences a litany of rigors that are only compounded by the amount of fame they accumulate as they follow the formula imposed on them by their sponsors. The most influential factor is the listener who indirectly commands a musician to do what is most desirable by industry standards, but the listener downloading an artist's latest EP or attending a concert is generally unaware of all that goes into the production of this particular brand of entertainment. In this way, the dynamic that sees the musician rise in notoriety is the same that drives them to seek refuge. With nowhere else to turn, a musician might get involved in substances that are all too prevalent in their field. Many accounts (some of which date as far back as Miles Davis' autobiography) construct the idea that someone is seen as "hip" or edgy if they're involved with drugs, and that labels push these artists to use them. The obsession with image and the idea of perfection is all too real in the entertainment industry, and drugs serve as an outlet where that tension becomes illusory and the pressure is alleviated.

This serves as a good segue into another ugly undertone that is hidden in plain sight by the music industry: sexism. Women are by and large the most victimized by the music industry, on multiple fronts. The label would lose its mind if a female artist did anything to shatter her image as a femme-fatale or appear anything other than ultra-sexual and provocative. The ubiquitous double standard in regards to sexual behavior is the most obvious example — where men can speak about women in sultry ways and aggrandize their own ego, women must be perceived as powerless and abject victims or risk being labelled as promiscuous or overbearing. The objectification of women has always been around, but it seems to have intensified in recent years, with marginally talented artists such as Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry being elevated to a level of fame that has little to do with their ability to make good music.

The music industry's egregious methods have inflated the art form to heights of success that have never before been reached in known human history, but at a cost that may sacrifice the musician's soul in the process. No longer are the masses moved solely by the skill of the musician. Instead, they focus on the musician's actions, the sponsors they're supported by, or even the industrial manufactured ego that they're consumed by. We've been conditioned to be concerned about more than music — we want the person behind it. But what happens when the person we seek behind these songs never existed?