Agyemang and Thomas — who became close in 2017 while both were working at Atlantic Records — then enlisted their network of colleagues and friends to spread the word on social media, spurring a flurry of plans both inside the music business and out to observe what some supporters began calling “Blackout Tuesday” and sending many companies scrambling to figure out how to participate. While Agyemang and Thomas hosted their own virtual summit, drawing 1,500 attendees, the three major record labels — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group — called off their normal operations and organized workshops and discussions for their employees instead. Streaming services, radio stations and artists lent support as well. Apple Music canceled its Beats 1 schedule and offered a radio stream featuring the best in black music; Spotify added an eight-minute, 46-second track of silence in select playlists and podcasts in remembrance of how long Floyd was suffocated.
In an insular industry where white men still occupy most of the top corporate jobs, Thomas and Agyemang’s bold and wildly successful call to action suggests that up-and-coming executives like them have more power to change the business than their job titles might imply — and they say they’re prepared to keep using it. Steadfastly declaring they’ll be fighting for racial equity alongside the black music community for the long haul, the friends are now focused on what they’re calling phase two of their effort to “hold the music industry accountable and transparent in its practices across representation, social responsibility and holistic compensation as it pertains to its black artists, partners and staff,” as they explain in their new mission statement, which they updated June 11.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” says Thomas, who is senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records and now works with artists including PNB Rock, Pardison Fontaine, DRAM, Ugly God, Jucee Froot and Ayanis. “No one thought they could black out the industry, but they couldn’t keep Brianna and me from trying.”
Adds Agyemang, senior artist campaign manager at Apple’s artist-services division, Platoon, whose current roster includes Victoria Monet, WurlD, Holly Humberstone and Kwesi Arthur: “We’re the least expected, but we’re here for a reason — and we’re not going away.” They talked to Billboard about what went right, what went wrong and what’s next.
How did the idea for #TheShowMustBePaused come about?
Brianna Agyemang: We had found out about George Floyd’s killing, after those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, at the hands of police. It was just a really heavy week for the black community. And people still had to work. It didn’t seem like anyone had a chance to really take in what was happening in the middle of the coronavirus, which was also attacking the black community disproportionately. It was just a lot while trying to keep the show moving. So I called Jamila that Friday and said we should take the day off, that it’s not business as usual. Then we came up with the tagline #TheShowMustBePaused and some graphics.
Jamila Thomas: Brianna was saying, “No, I’m serious. I’m really tired.” And I said, “I am too.” I felt it was OK if we took a break to reset. And it was super important that we did it together. Then we started hitting up friends who were asking if they should share this privately or publicly. So we decided as friends to share it publicly, like, “What are we hiding for? We’re going to stand up for a day off to regroup and reset.”