The idea seemed like a good one at the time. Members of the music industry at large joined a “blackout” this past Tuesday, one where they would halt operations in favor of reflecting on issues of social justice spurred on by the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody and other recent victims of police brutality.
Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and her former co-worker there, Brianna Agyemang, conceived the call to action. The pair launched a website and hashtag titled “The Show Must Be Paused,” designed to hold the “multi-billion dollar industry…that has profited predominantly from Black art” accountable.
“It is a day to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community,” Thomas and Agyemang said in a mission statement. “This is not just a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.”
Record labels, artists, record stores and many media outlets announced they would be supporting the initiative, which quickly spread worldwide and colloquially became known as “Blackout Tuesday.” Yet while intentions behind the event were positive, questions quickly arose as to what exactly would be accomplished and how the big corporations including themselves would align themselves more than just verbally.
Major labels pledged to support the day, but how would they be showing it, in a financial respect or otherwise, was unclear for many. Hitting pause for the day is simple, critics argued, but actually doing something that would have a long-lasting effect seemed to be an entirely different conversation, when it should’ve been done in tandem.
The day itself caused another unintended misstep as thousands upon thousands of individuals, musicians and organizations showed support for Blackout Tuesday on social media by blacking out their profile pictures or sharing a black box and adding the hashtag “Black Lives Matter.” Doing that ended up confusing the message by creating an overload of BLM posts that had nothing to do with actual events taking place in real time, like in-person protests and gatherings and the crucial information surrounding them.
Black Lives Matter feeds were getting clogged up, even more so when people realized what was happening and urged those using the BLM tag for Blackout Tuesday to remove it, making things doubly congested. Organizers for Blackout Tuesday quickly scrambled to undo the mess by tweeting, “Please note: the purpose was never to mute ourselves. The purpose is to disrupt.”
“How did #BlackoutTuesday Go So Wrong So Fast?” asked Vulture. “Blackout Tuesday backfired. 5 ways to help instead,” read a headline from the Los Angeles Times. “Lizzo and Lil Nas X criticise Blackout Tuesday for obscuring protests,” said UK outlet The Guardian.
Days later, it was still unclear how much good Blackout Tuesday managed to do. It wasn’t a complete disaster though, far from it in fact. Awareness was raised in a number of ways, especially when those out of the loop began to see their social media feeds filled with black squares, realized what it was all about and decided to get involved somehow.
A number of musicians said they would halt the release of new music, livestreaming concerts in an effort to sharpen the focus on unifying with protesters standing up against police brutality. The Weeknd urged his industry partners and executives to “go big and public” with their giving as he did, donating half a million dollars to various organizations.
The corporate side of the industry, for the most part, responded under pressure and revealed the ways which they would be moving forward in support. Warner Music Group detailed the beginnings of a $100 million fund for a foundation aimed at backing charitable causes, with an emphasis on “campaigns against violence and racism. The Universal Music Group announced an inclusion task force, said they wouldn’t be releasing any new music this week and would be contributing to organizations to help bail out protesters. Sony Music said it would be matching employee gifts to related charitable establishments. At the very least – and this is no small endeavor in these current times of protests and a pandemic – Blackout Tuesday took multiple steps forward in a positive direction.
This article appeared in yesterday’s print edition of The Daily Times in my weekly Rock Music Menu column under the title “Music industry struggles, but makes strides in call for unity.”
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