Is It Possible To Separate Art From the Artist? A 'Bad' Tour Publicist, Industry Therapist and Exec Weigh In

ISSUE 7 2019 - COMMISSIONED FOR ONE TIME USE ONLY - DO NOT EVER REUSE
Illustration by Joan Wong
        

A publicist on Jackson’s Bad tour recalls watching his behavior around boys with concern -- but says she’ll still listen to his music.

I was on the Bad tour with Jimmy Safechuck and his family. MJ and Jimmy were always together, holding hands, and the press was starting to ask, “Who is the kid, and why are they always together?” The official story was he was the kid from the Pepsi commercial and Pepsi was the tour sponsor, and that’s why he was on tour with us that summer. Behind the scenes, we all thought it was inappropriate and sent someone to talk to MJ about the optics. MJ wouldn’t listen and continued taking Jimmy everywhere, holding hands. When the parents were moved to the band/staff hotel, not the MJ/management hotel, I couldn’t believe that the parents were allowing it. So no, [Leaving Neverland] did not change my mind about MJ. I suspected he was a pedophile at the time, and, obviously, I was correct. I never understood how the parents allowed their son to be with MJ all the time, without them. If MJ loved children so much, how come there were never little girls around... just boys?

MJ was a super talent, and I do separate his art from his lifestyle. I have no problem listening to his music and don’t think it should be banned. I don’t quite get why I shouldn’t watch an actor play a role or listen to a musician sing a song because they aren’t “good” people. Doesn’t mean I want to spend any time with them, but I can still enjoy the art.

Labels will sign and continue to work with anyone they think can make them money. I doubt [artists’ personal lives] will enter their spreadsheets -- only “Does this artist do what we want and make us money?” Then they’ll find a way to justify being in business. The only time they will reject a moneymaker is when the public rejects the product.

-- As told to Melinda Newman

 


 

Jodi Milstein spent 15 years as a music executive before founding RockStar Therapy, where she serves as a clinical counselor to industry clients -- many of whom struggle with “guilt or shame in having any involvement in promoting” problematic artists. She speaks about her experiences with misconduct in the music business and how she has tried to help her clients navigate it.

With all of these allegations that have been coming out with the #MeToo movement and other recent documentaries [like Surviving R. Kelly], for some young people getting into the industry, it’s kind of a wakeup call -- things can be pretty tough.

When I was in the industry, there definitely was misconduct. You had to turn a blind eye sometimes, and other times, it was addressed -- people were dropped from labels, and management refused to take on certain artists. I know some artists who wanted to go with certain management companies weren’t taken on because they brought too much baggage.

It seems like a lot of people who worked with those who have had a lot of challenges have been working with them for many years and become complacent about it and tolerant of certain behaviors. Because, you know, they’re getting a paycheck.

It’s not my role to tell someone whether they should or shouldn’t [work with someone accused of misconduct]. It’s about how to help them make the decision that would work best for them. Some people, they can work through some of that stuff and compartmentalize. And if they can do that and separate [the art from the artist’s behavior] and work on not taking on any of that guilt -- merely saying, “I’m promoting this person’s musical career” -- they may be a little bit better at working with somebody like that.

But if somebody is extremely sensitive and if they have a history [experiencing] that behavior -- say, an executive who has had a history of sexual trauma, and here she’s working with somebody who’s being accused of underage sexual abuse -- this may be something that this person has a real issue with. And then, it’s not just managing how it is for them to work with this artist, but also how to manage their triggers. And that they don’t fall into a deep, dark hole.

I would definitely bring up with clients: If you’re working with somebody, are you OK if you’re brought in and questioned as to your role in this? Are you OK with risking your business life and your personal life? And absolutely, I’m sure there are people who are fine with it, who think, “It’s not going to come back to me.” And oftentimes, it doesn’t. But other people might be really concerned about their reputation and risking something like that. A buried secret can creep up, and you have to figure out how [deep] your involvement is and if you can be accused of being part of all of this.

-- As told to Andrew Unterberger

 


 

Industry veteran Barry Weiss, co-founder/partner of RECORDS, a joint venture with Sony Music, on handling artists’ crises.

There’s no road map -- there’s no Harvard Business School case study on how to deal with a challenging crisis with an artist. Each one is a case study unto itself. But ultimately you try to be sensitive to the issues and do the right thing for the artist and their art, and be respectful of that. At the end of the day, you are the record company. You’re not the therapist, you’re not the manager, you’re not the father or the brother -- you’re there to help the artist as a conduit to the public. It’s a very different kind of relationship than a management agreement with an artist.

A version of this article originally appeared in the March 23 issue of Billboard.