In country music, it’s all about the song. And a recent piece by Emily Siner in NPR highlights a sexual harassment in one of the most vulnerable places in country music: the writing room.
Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp shine a light on harassment thanks in no small part to the star power behind those speaking up. Though still timid compared to the grand scale of Hollywood, Nashville celebrities started coming forward more and more. Especially since October 2017, when the Kirt Webster scandal broke.
But for Nashville’s songwriters, the visibility doesn’t come as easily. In Siner’s piece, she speaks with a handful of female songwriters. Those include Laurel Sorenson and Katie Crone, who spoke freely about some of their experiences with male counterparts.
“The whole point of a co-write is [to be] very vulnerable,” Crone says in the piece. “It’s like, ‘Let’s talk about your breakup, let’s talk about your feelings. Let’s get really emotionally intimate.'”
That intimacy leads to some of the best songs year after year. It also leads to potentially dangerous moments for female songwriters. Sorenson says some male co-writers use the moment to cross the line and talk about blatantly inappropriate sexual material. At best, it leads to ambiguous discomfort. But sometimes it becomes physical, or emotionally manipulative.
One writer says a male co-writer wouldn’t stop placing his hand on her knee. Another says one started making harassing phone calls in the middle of the night.
There’s also a trend of male co-writers trying to parlay work into dates. Sarah Clanton says she befriended an influential songwriter under the optimistic guise of mentorship. But then he started texting sexual messages.
“He was like, ‘Sleep with me or I won’t talk to you anymore,'” Clanton says. “He’s like, ‘Don’t tell anybody about this.’ And literally I didn’t tell anybody until the hashtag #MeToo started going around.”
The worst part is some of Nashville’s biggest songwriting advocates don’t even know about it. In many cases, men get away with predatory behavior simply because of the environment. And that needs to change.
Be sure to read and listen to Emily Siner’s entire piece on NPR.