Blackout Tuesday and Music Industry's Response to Police Killings

The music industry is protesting police violence on Blackout Tuesday.
The music industry is protesting police violence on Blackout Tuesday. Westword
On Tuesday, June 2, the music industry is taking action — on social media.

Here's the context: Black Lives Matter is marching against police violence. White supremacists are taking off their Hawaiian shirts to apparently infiltrate and divide Black Lives Matter protests while posing as members of  Antifa, which was declared a terrorist organization by some nationalist in a bunker and his allies who seem to think the lead singer of the National has left his farmhouse to lure innocent people into if police murdering civilians in cold blood weren't enough to cause a riot.

Oh, yeah...and there's a pandemic.

So in the midst of all that, some people in the music industry — which has been all but shut down for weeks with mass cancellations, layoffs, furloughs, cuts and a bleak future ahead — decided to "go on pause" during a blackout day in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

These days, for many in the industry, the music biz is already on pause. But on Blackout Tuesday, the pause is marked with intent.

The rules — according to one version floating around the Internet — go like this: "Do not post on social media. Only post a blank black image on all social-media platforms for solidarity. Suspend all music streams and YouTube streams for the day. Cancel/close/suspend participation in all dance studios, classes and meetings. Identify ways to help your community. Strengthen your knowledge on contemporary race relations and the history of black social, political and economic plight in the US."

All of this is pushed with the hashtag #theshowmustbepaused. Really. What shows?

Maybe there will be a pause from the legitimate hand-wringing over the fate of live music and the near economic apocalypse that the industry faces, allowing workers and leaders to show support for the community.

Maybe the largely white industry, which has often stolen black culture — from rock and roll to funk to soul to hip-hop — will show an iota of solidarity for this community that it has pillaged. What about reparations for the thievery? Fat chance.

From the press releases I'm receiving during Blackout Tuesday about new music coming out later this week, plenty in the industry aren't taking the pause particularly seriously.

This social media campaign has been received with mixed reviews. Some people are calling out entertainment corporations with overwhelmingly white leadership and staff for faking solidarity while continuing to exploit black culture in what they see as purely a marketing move. Others are asking: "Where have you all been up until now?

When many who are promoting the campaign started tagging #BLM and #BlackLivesMatter, flooding the hashtag with black images and making it hard for people in the movement to actually see what was going on in the streets, they were quickly encouraged to cut it out.

Outside of a Black Lives Matter stream that is orange, Spotify's playlists are dark. Bandcamp, which hasn't gone dark, is pledging to donate 100 percent of its proceeds on June 19 to the NAACP's legal defense fund. SoundCloud says it's blacked out, but it's hard to tell what that means, since we can still stream the latest EDM.

Even before Blackout Tuesday, some artists and bands, such as Tennis, were donating to bail-relief funds and talking about making the end of white supremacy the project of our generation. Others, from Los Mocochetes to the Brothers of Brass, Wheelchair Sports Camp and Trev Rich, have been actively protesting.

Plenty of musicians have been dropping new songs.

One of the latest is from Zenas, who put out a powerful, melancholy, R&B/hip-hop track with Keedron Bryant that smartly mixes the sounds of protest with grief, with the resounding chorus (and the title of the song): "I Just Want to Live."

"They leave us dead in the streets," Zenas sings. "Now they waking the beast, screaming 'fuck the police, no justice, no peace.'"

Bryant's spot in the song is all about speaking out.

"This ain't the time to be silent," he raps. "Not while our people are dying." 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris