UC Berkeley student musicians find empowerment through music in light of #MeToo

Kesha / VEVO/Courtesy

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The #MeToo movement has had an influential presence in the Hollywood scene throughout the last year, forming a base of support for survivors of sexual violence. While the music industry may not have had as many allegations come to light, the abuse undoubtedly exists, and artists in the music community have made efforts to support those affected.

Music has always served as an outlet for people to find repose and empowerment in relatable and impactful messages.

For instance, at last month’s Grammy Awards, Kesha performed her song “Praying,” which addresses the alleged rape and abuse she experienced from producer Dr. Luke and her recovery from it. The line “I’m proud of who I am / No more monsters, I can breathe again” can be a source of inspiration and empowerment for people who have gone through similar pain.

As artists such as Grimes, Lady Gaga and Sia are giving their lyrical accounts of surviving trauma, some student musicians are also feeling inspired to use their voices to speak against sexual violence.

It is rare that hierarchies of power are ever perfect, and Songwriting at Berkeley member Ian Kolaja elaborated on how the music industry still has much room for improvement.

“I think that record labels should be taking more of an initiative to protect their artists from these kinds of incidents and side with them rather than the producer,” Kolaja said.

Figures in pop culture, such as Kesha, serve as major influences for people looking for inspiration. Artists who overcome the pressure to stay silent about the abuse they face, from their management teams or otherwise, encourage survivors to not feel ashamed to tell their stories.

“I think that every time there’s an incident, people really need to take a stand,” UC Berkeley student and local performer Kiva Uhura said. “Denouncing the boys’ club when incidents happen rather than just trying to push it under the rug and say that he was ‘just joking’ or whatever— all those things are so dismissive. They discourage people from actually contributing.”

Between powerful lyrics, the emotion of the singer and all else that a great piece of music offers for someone looking to identify in a song, music is a strong source of empowerment for listeners and can help bring people together in their struggles.

“I find music to be a great source of catharsis for me. When I’m going through something, either writing a song can help me get something off my heart,” Uhura said. “Or maybe just feel like an artist really understands what I’m going through. That is validating and makes me feel like I can get through it if they got through it. It’s been a big part of my growth, my development, my personality.”

Uhura noted “Oblivion” by Grimes as a song that had a significant impact on her, as it addresses an individual feeling powerless and not being able to rise against it. In the song, Grimes says, “Cause when you’re running by yourself / It’s hard to find someone to hold your hand,” conveying the profound difficulty of feeling alone.

“What I think is a great utility of putting something like that in a song is you give a voice to the voiceless,” Uhura said. “You also let people know like, ‘Here’s what I’m going through. You can get through it ‘cause I’ve gone through it. We’re stronger than this. Don’t let this define you.’”

As a woman involved in the music community, Uhura continued by stating how artists who are confident enough to share their own messages can hopefully be sources of inspiration for survivors of similar situations to not feel silenced.

“Unfortunately, (being in the music industry) just makes me feel like I can’t really let my guard down,” Uhura said. “I know how it is right now and I know that I can’t change it by lying down. I can’t change it by being ignorant or being naive and pretending that it’s not there.”

The #MeToo movement has made its mark in the film world, but we need to bring this wave of empowerment to survivors of sexual violence in the music industry just as much. Music is, ideally, a source of liberation for people feeling trapped or silenced — not merely fun entertainment, but a community of creatives in support of each other.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected].