From Bill Cosby to Dr. Luke, Johnny Depp to Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, the movement to bring accusations of powerful men to the public eye has grown substantially and continues to grow every day. With these kinds of accusations, many will pose the question of why it is that in addition to seeking justice for victims, we must stop consuming the art that these individuals produce.
On Dec. 9, Timothy Heller released a statement, via her Twitter, accusing former friend, Melanie Martinez, of rape. Although it is easy to lump Timothy’s statement in with those made recently, there are quite a few differences in circumstance. One large difference being that Timothy and Melanie were friends, another being the fanbase of Melanie. Melanie’s audience is a fairly specific one: young, typically female and heavily associated with Twitter feminism. Although a large number of her now former fans have been sharing video after video of themselves burning her merchandise, breaking her vinyl and throwing their merchandise away, there is still a substantial number of her fans who believe her denial tweet and have been sending hurtful comments to Timothy. Simply scroll through the comments on Twitter or Instagram if you have some time and a strong stomach (some of them are very, very graphic and upsetting), and you will see anything from victim-shaming to outright endorsement of rape, I’ve seen more than one that literally stated “rape me” and several “stay strong” comments on Melanie’s posts.
Some fall in-between, believing Timothy, condemning the actions of Melanie but continuing to listen to her music, claiming as long as they don’t pay for it that they aren’t supporting a rapist, following the “separating the art from the artist” approach.
Personally, I only considered myself a fan of hers around the release of Dollhouse EP, and stopped being a fan with the release of Cry Baby. Dollhouse EP used dark imagery, referencing the stigmas facing mental illness in “Dollhouse,” specifically, but none of her imagery made me particularly uncomfortable. This changed with the release of Cry Baby. Melanie went from dressing like a rag doll to dressing as a child, citing a new persona, one that has been frequently and reasonably criticized for romanticizing pedophilia. Her lyrics became darker, more graphic. She went from writing about the struggles of mental illness to romanticizing mental illness. Nearly all of her new songs used graphic and violent imagery of blood, suicide, domestic violence and death. “Tag You’re It,” in particular, made me the most uncomfortable, as it uses imagery of sexual assault within the lyrics, and the cover for the song is a smirking wolf anthropomorphized to look like an adult holding a child, conveying a heavily romanticized representation of CSA. The art for “Pacify Her” also makes me increasingly uncomfortable after Timothy’s allegations surfaced.
I find it very hard to separate Melanie from her art for two reasons. First, and most obvious, Melanie’s art by itself is problematic, and it romanticizes a great deal of toxic behavior and ideas. It is hard to separate sexual assault allegations from a woman who wrote music about sexual assault and included artwork in her album booklet romanticizing CSA. When Melanie writes violent things about other women, it makes it harder to separate her music from her violence toward Timothy. Second, even if Melanie never wrote about these topics, her art is her platform, and even if she loses her monetary platform, if people still listen to her music, they are giving her a voice and authority.
My word of advice to fans of Melanie is to dispose of your merchandise (I know some people were donating their Melanie shirts to shelters, so you may want to look into that instead of just burning them or throwing them away) to take Timothy’s words to heart and to listen to victims of sexual assault and violence when they have the courage to speak up. Take Melanie off your playlists, delete her albums from your music library and don’t go to her performances. Find a new favorite artist. Your entertainment is not more important than the abuse of someone else.
As for Melanie’s statement of “she never said no,” an absence of a “no” is not the presence of a “yes.” Coercion is not consent, hesitation is not consent, a “yes” under conditions not met and a “yes” under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not consent. A conscious, informed, aware “yes” and reciprocation throughout sex is consent. Nothing else. Just because someone isn’t screaming “NO” and forcing you away does not mean they want to have sex with you. Consent is not something for us to assume. It shouldn’t take someone forcing us away for us to respect their boundaries.