Here are two recent stories of entertainers and social media — one you probably heard, one you might not have.
In a nutshell, Swift objected to Apple’s decision to pass on the discount for the service’s three-month trial period to those who make music, not paying the writers, producers, or artists the customary (and reportedly minimal) royalties for music streamed during the trial. Her letter immediately went viral — and shortly thereafter, Apple changed its tune, announcing that artists will be compensated during the trial phase. “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists,” tweeted Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue.
2. Last week, actress Rose McGowan (Scream, Grindhouse) tweeted a “casting note” with a script she received in advance of an audition for an Adam Sandler movie. For wardrobe, the unnamed party suggested “Black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged). And form fitting leggings or jeans.” “For real,” McGowan wrote. “hahahaha I die.”
At first glance, these two items are only related in the most basic sense: they both concern a celebrity using social media to air grievances, which is not exactly newsworthy. But beyond that surface similarity, what we have here are two examples of an occurrence that is comically rare in the entertainment industry — entertainers who are willing to call out the powerful, by name, and risk the consequences of such an action.
Swift’s open letter to Apple is a marvel of precision. She’s walking on eggshells here, careful to acknowledge the company as “one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans,” filled with “truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.” And she prudently notes, “This is not about me… These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much.”
What she chooses not to add is, “And we’re also terrified of them.” Make no mistake: as a major distribution arm for a music industry that’s been dying on the vine for years now, Apple wields an enormous amount of power, and it takes guts to speak up against them. In fact, it probably took an artist of Swift’s cultural omnipresence to not only voice these concerns, but to have them taken seriously. (You’ll notice Apple’s VP didn’t @-mention Justin Vernon.) And sure, the chances were probably pretty slim that Apple would retaliate with some kind of Taylor Swift blackballing — she’s too important and too beloved an artist for that to go well — but it could’ve happened, and Swift (and, presumably her people) certainly weighed that possibility. And she pressed “publish” anyway.
Adam Sandler — or, as McGowan puts it, “name of male star rhymes with Madam Panhandler” — may not wield Apple-level power and influence in the movie industry, and the Ridiculous Six controversy certainly proves he’s not criticism-proof. But like it or not, he’s still an indisputably powerful figure, consistently pulling down north of $15 million per picture (perhaps not deservedly) while minting big-money deals and remaining one of the few actors whose name on a marquee ensures the money of something resembling a reliable audience.
And to be fair, Rose McGowan’s not exactly Taylor Swift either; she hasn’t appeared in a big studio picture since 2011’s Conan the Barbarian remake, spending most of her time lately doing television, voice work, and directing. That might just make her name-and-shame move on Twitter even braver than Swift’s; there were benefits to swallowing her concerns, squeezing into her form-fitting tank, and landing the role. McGowan could’ve probably used the paycheck of a Sandler movie, and the visibility such a supporting role (glorified eye candy though it may’ve been) would’ve accorded her. And she pressed “tweet” anyway.
It’s an action that’s bold, a little brave, and a lot honest — Rose McGowan has just run out of fucks to give, and frankly, it’s hard to blame her. Hollywood is a dirty, ugly industry, where decisions about how people are treated and represented are made arbitrarily, in secrecy, by powerful people who are seldom if ever held accountable. Thanks to the Sony hack, for example, we now know that a white Spiderman isn’t just an inevitability, but a contractual obligation; there may be some blowback, but nothing will actually happen. Unless, y’know, Robert Downey Jr. (or, more likely, Mark Ruffalo) decides to say something about it.
Celebrities are often all too willing to offer up their two cents on matters of politics and policy, while simultaneously (presumably out of some combination of fear and self-preservation) keeping that which they’re most knowledgeable about — the ins and outs of their industry — to themselves. What these two stories suggest is that if entertainers want their industry to change how it handles royalty rip-offs or how female roles are cast or anything and everything in between, more of them are going to have to be willing to speak up, and risk the consequences.