An established musician lavishes an unknown one with praise and career help: recording sessions, songwriting advice, a spot on a tour. What to call the two of them? Boss and employee? Nothing so straightforward. Collaborative equals? Not if one’s success depends on the other’s largesse. Really, they’re mentor and mentee, a central arrangement in pop-music mythology, most recently given Hollywood glorification in A Star Is Born.
But in real life, that story can involve the mentor exploiting power for sex, and without actually helping the mentee. The #MeToo tales to emerge in the music industry have, to an overwhelming extent, exposed men who tried to trade access to the music industry for access to a musician’s body. Many of the women allegedly abused by R. Kelly were young, aspiring singers lured into his orbit by the prospect of professional development. It happens in formal arrangements, too: Among the women alleging rape by Russell Simmons is Tina Baker, an artist he managed. Now the accusations surfacing about the rocker Ryan Adams offer a stark reminder of how such mentorship can be weaponized.
Adams’s country-tinged rock won acclaim and sold hundreds of thousands of albums in the early 2000s, and since then he’s been an alternative-music fixture, releasing a steady stream of songs and engaging in splashy collaborations. A New York Times article published on Wednesday quotes multiple women—some famous and some not—who allege that Adams dangled career boosts only to then pursue sex. Again and again, that pursuit is reported to have resulted in exactly the opposite of the fruitful partnership Adams promised. These women say he sabotaged their ambitions.