Following the horrifying murder of George Floyd, organizations have been quick to issue messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, to… varying levels of success. It is in this atmosphere of change that many people of colour have felt able to speak up about injustices they have experienced, especially within the industries they work in.
Record label Dirty Hit recently joined a long list of companies professing support for the movement, issuing a social media post that has since been deleted, wherein they stated they would “love to work with more creatives that are black or POC”. This led to a backlash from artists signed and associated with the independent label. The first to speak out was Mélanie Lehmann, aka visual creative, Melony Lemon.
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I’m sorry but this has pushed me over the edge. THE AUDACITY. I’m fucking shaking. My blood is fucking boiling. @dirtyhit we’ve had this convo , not once not twice but MULTIPLE TIME. Even when Gia has sent THE WHOLE label demanding change and how you treat poc, yet you NEVER acknowledged me. You NEVER listened to me , instead all I got from you is a shit tonne of angry messages and Jamie himself calling me , making me cry on the phone telling me about how color blind he is. Yet still till now , you use MY LABOUR because you know that you can rip me off because my gf is on your label. You KNOW my life depends on her to do well on YOUR label. I’ve kept this from you guys for so long but I can’t do this anymore. You threatened to drop my girlfriend to PUNISH ME , because I speak out about you. When I tried to tell you that you need to support YOUR black artists that are or have suffered from mental health and how race plays a HUGE factor , you punished me. You offered £150 for me to shoot an art work for you between me and HMUA who is also a person of color. You know how much I made from DIRECTING, PRODUCING, STYLING and everything else for Turbo Dreams? £366. Gia has asked Jamie to drop her 3 times. And every time it was denied. You know how I felt? Like I’m I’m fucking stuck with you , like I’m fucking suffocating. Yep. What a joke. You don’t see people of colors worth you just wanna use us. Fuck you honestly
Many fans commented on these posts, demanding that Dirty Hit’s manager, Jamie Oborne release a statement of apology and act accordingly, to better the label’s behaviour and treatment of people of colour in the future. One fan in particular (@illuminatalie.jpg) said that she felt “so disgusted and disappointed” as a “woman of colour”, labelling Dirty Hit’s post, “meaningless lip service” that does not provide an appropriate apology in response to claims of racism and unequal treatment. This only gives more reason to believe the ongoing speculation around the label’s poor treatment of signees and clients.
Melanie Lehmann, too, rightly held no remorse, exposing Dirty Hit for the poor treatment she had previously experienced as the photographer and creative director for signee and girlfriend, Gia Ford. Lehmann, an obviously talented Thai-German creative, posted a screenshot of Dirty Hit’s Instagram call to people of colour, to level her issues with the label. Using her Instagram story- because it’s 2020 and this is how we do things– she argued that the label undervalues POC and has personally made her life “hell”.
The creative claims that Dirty Hit financially undervalued her work, and emotionally manipulated her into providing labour. Lehmann was directly asked not to be vocal about such issues, consequently creating tension between the label and the signee she worked for. This anguish and silencing led to the suffering of Lehmann’s mental health. She says Jamie Oborne himself caused her panic attacks and left her feeling suicidal at times. The culprit, however, claims he will not issue an apology because he doesn’t “know what (he’s) done wrong”. This prevalent display of silencing and ignored demands for a change in tone towards POC (people of colour) who work with Dirty Hit highlights the power that corporations have over their artists when they depend on them for income.
Dirty Hit’s racist treatment especially came as a shock for a label that claims to be one of the most progressive in the industry, leading us to question – are corporations all the same? The label that once seemed to be a good egg out of a bad bunch now appears as a contributor to prejudice. Many POC are trying to break through into an industry that is one of the most challenging, even for the most privileged, and the label provides a perfect example for the challenge that non-white creatives, face.
Dirty Hit was created for the band that is now arguably the most successful among the label’s signees, The 1975. After the band was rejected from all major labels multiple times, they and Jamie Oborne decided to form their own label. Now, getting more to the point of privilege, The 1975 is a band that is made up of 4 middle-class white males from outer Manchester, and whose frontman, Matthew Healy, is the son of UK stars Denise Welch and Tim Healy.
For a label which claims to be a “courageous artist development company” the marginalisation of people of colour’s voices highlights the labels hypocrisy. Another example is Caleb Steph, a 20-year-old Black musician, who felt “silenced” and had to fight continuously to realise his vision for his work. The statements released by various individuals including signee Just Banco, previous signees Gia Ford, and Caleb Steph, as well as creative director Mélanie Lehmann, highlights that the issue of financial dependence and control over artists is especially prevalent in the case of Dirty Hit and its associated companies. As well as racial stereotyping such as assumptions made about a person’s personality because of their skin colour.
You can read the full statement from Caleb Steph below:
It’s unfortunate I have to make a statement in a time like this, but after hearing recent claims of misrepresentation and unfair treatment between @DirtyHit and other artists, I feel like my fans should know I’ve been signed for 5+ years after asking to be let go multiple times..
— Caleb Steph (@calebstph) June 5, 2020
‘Trapanese’ Dirty Hit artist Just Banco claims he was accused by in-house manager Chris Melian of consuming drugs, leading to a supposedly slower work rate. In a screenshot that Lehman reposted to her Instagram story of a statement originally posted on Twitter, JustBanco said that he “didn’t know whether to laugh or cry” when after signing his record deal, the All on Red manager, claimed the artist wasn’t working hard enough because he was too busy “getting high”. There seems to be no basis for this claim that was made by Melian other than that Just Banco is a black man. Melian, here, is reinforcing racial stereotypes that are still prevalent in a society that some would consider “post-racial”.
It is perhaps also important to note that upon reading the statement it seemed rather ironic considering The 1975’s Matty Healy’s image. Healy has suffered previously with addiction to heavy drugs, which subsequently led to him receiving equine therapy. This was all paid for by the band and/or label. It, therefore, seems that one rule applies to someone that is white and at the top of the label hierarchy, whilst another is used to discriminate against an artist of colour. This same rule seems to apply to the wider society. Healy has also been very vocal about his drug use in the past, would this be as ‘allowed’ or accepted if he were a person of colour?
The use of All on Red as the management company for numerous Dirty Hit signees is deemed problematic by most, although Oborne claims that it supports the artist’s rights and vision more than other management deals would. He has said that the ethos behind Dirty Hit and All On Red is making artists feel empowered and that their vision is not debased by the desire for financial gain. The industry calls this “double-dipping” and it leads the artist(s) involved into a trap in which they are fighting alone against their management company and label, which is one single entity in this type of deal. This perhaps provides the reasoning behind some claims that say the label has a “cult”-like environment.
Helienne Lindvall in an article for The Guardian argues that the artist-manager relationship is one of the most important interactions in an artist’s life, as managers are the artist’s defenders who fight for the musician at every step. When your manager is also your label, they can deem it more profitable to push the work of other artists more than your own. Dirty Hit and All on Red abandon the idea of the manager as a middle-man, meaning there is nobody there, solely for the purpose of professionally supporting the artist.
For a label which claims to be a “courageous artist development company” the marginalisation of people of colour’s voices highlights the hypocrisy that exists not only in the music industry but in wider society. As to how Dirty Hit will move forward in light of these allegations, and if Lehmann’s sought-after apology will be given: only time will tell. Instances like this remind us how far many of us have to go to ensure we value our differences and amplify the voices of those less heard.