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  • Maggie Horstman

Abusive behavior has little effect on the careers of famous artists

Updated: Jan 28


Chris Brown performing at Supafest 2012 via Flickr user Eva Rinaldi, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


We all know that we make certain choices with our money to ensure we support the right causes and refrain from supporting things we don’t believe in; however, there are some non-monetary actions we take on a daily basis that have the same effect. Every time we press “play” on Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube, an artist gets paid – so why are people still choosing to play abusive artists?


In 2009, Chris Brown (who gets millions of listens daily and is worth approximately $30 million) was charged with battery for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna; and while his abusive behavior briefly made headlines, he’s had countless top hits since (many of which have featured other popular artists like Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Pitbull and Tyga). Sadly, his abuse didn’t stop with the 2009 incident. In 2013, a woman accused Brown of shoving her to the ground and subsequently needing surgery for torn ligaments in her knee. In 2015, a woman filed a report against Brown for third-degree assault for pushing her off a bus, and in 2016, a woman accused him of punching her in the face. The list of his abuses goes on and on, including being sued for assault and battery by his former manager and being accused of threatening a woman with a gun in 2016.


After this long list of assaults, Chris Brown and Drake released the song “No Guidance,” which peaked at #1 in June of 2019. Several other artists were featured on Brown’s latest album, Indigo, including G-Eazy, Juicy J, Juvenile, and Lil Jon. With so many established artists continuing to work with Brown, he’s getting plenty of listens on Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube. What’s worse, is Brown isn’t the only abuser getting a ride to the top while consistently abusing those around him.


These occurrences are not new. Even the singer of the idealistic, utopian song "Imagine," John Lennon, was extremely abusive to his partners and son; he even admitted it in an interview. Ozzy Osbourne attempted to kill his wife in the 80's and still managed to snag a 2002 reality show. Rolling Stones guitarist Bill Wyman dated a young teenager while he was in his 40's and married her when she turned 18. Yet, after countless instances like these, the public continues to support abusive artists.


We are all likely aware of the 2019 documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly.” Over the past two decades (and beyond), Kelly was already consistently abusing young girls, but it wasn’t until years later, when “Surviving R. Kelly” was released, that the public started paying full attention. Kelly’s known abuse began with his inappropriate relationship with 12-year-old Aaliyah. He married Aaliyah three years later, when he was 27 and she was 15, by falsifying a marriage certificate to list her age as 18. In 1996, 15-year-old Tiffany Hawkins filed a lawsuit for sexual abuse that ended in a 1998 settlement including a confidentiality agreement. R. Kelly faced more accusations throughout the 90s, and by 2002, a tape surfaced of Kelly urinating on a child; a tape that was publicly joked about among comedians. I would go into more history on R. Kelly’s abuse, but the six-part documentary does a good job, and I highly recommend it; executive produced by Dream Hampton, the docuseries sheds light on the fact that Black womxn have rarely been believed or cared about by the justice system or public in instances of abuse.


It’s obvious this abuse has been normalized by the music industry, especially considering the great amount of music that references it directly in the lyrics. The good thing is that we don’t have to sit idly by and allow this to continue – we have options, and we can still be conscious consumers in the way we support artists even if we aren’t buying CDs or songs on iTunes like we used to. Recently, my friend told me she changed her settings on Spotify to stop playing Chris Brown. At first, I thought this seemed a little dramatic. How would my listening to Chris Brown support his success, let alone his continued abuse of women? But the truth is, the collective refusal to listen to abusive artists could actually make an impact. Chris Brown’s 2019 album was streamed 98 million times by July of last year, and even if he were to make CNBC’s low estimate of $0.006 per stream on Spotify, the streaming of that album alone could make Brown over half a million dollars.


If we stop streaming abusive artists, not only will they lose money, they will also be likely to lose future opportunities on fellow artists' albums. Additionally, a drastic decline in an artist’s success could bring light to their problematic, dangerous, and misogynistic behavior. Unfortunately, the consequence of ignoring this issue is the success of artists like Dr. Dre (physically abused two women in the 90s), Jimmy Page (kidnapped and assaulted a 14-year-old), Michael Jackson (known sexual abuser), Tory Lanez (shot Megan Thee Stallion in the foot), and Tupac (arrested in 1993 for gang raping a 19-year-old).


In no way should we cancel everyone for any allegation against them, but we should pay enough attention to the artists we listen to and decide whether we want to support them before they gain enough success to hear a resounding “oh no but I love him!” in response to violent sexual abuse.