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Note: This article contains references to domestic violence and sexual assault that some readers may find disturbing.

On November 16, the world's stock markets cheered for XXXTentacion. Shares in Vivendi soared after the French mega-company announced stronger sales than expected, led by its booming Universal Music Group division. Universal's best sellers this year included new releases not only from household names like Drake and Post Malone, but also the viral Florida rapper whose signing Universal never officially announced and still won't discuss on the record (Pitchfork's inquiries to Vivendi and Universal were eventually directed to a subsidiary's spokesperson, who declined to comment). XXXTentacion, who was shot dead in June, had been awaiting trial for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering. Vivendi's investors, meanwhile, are awaiting another payday: The company has said it plans to sell up to half of Universal, which was valued at $22 billion in 2017, as early as next year in order to finance stock buybacks or possible acquisitions.

Reports that XXXTentacion had signed a distribution deal with Caroline, a subsidiary of Universal's Capitol Music Group, first surfaced in October 2017. It was the same month that decades of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public, breaking the #MeToo movement wide open. At the time, the XXXTentacion deal reportedly upset several Capitol staffers. "This is a case of a bunch of rich white people trying to take advantage of a black artist who is troubled," one industry veteran told the Los Angeles Times.

As listeners and critics rang in 2018, hopes flickered that the music industry might follow Hollywood in beginning to reckon with its long history of abusive behavior toward women by male hitmakers and executives. But when it came to a number of the most well-documented allegations this year, the major labels kept the music playing, the checks cashing, and their lips all but sealed.

The mainstream music industry's role in XXXTentacion's career dates back further than many may realize. His arrest in the domestic battery case took place in October 2016, coinciding with his rise in notoriety. By June 2017, XXXTentacion was signed to SONGS Music Publishing, whose clients also included Lorde and Diplo. A fellow SONGS signee, John Cunningham, who went on to work as a producer on XXXTentacion's 2017 album 17 as well as co-executive producer on this year's ? and posthumous Skins, has told interviewers he was introduced to XXXTentacion by SONGS president Ron Perry, who is now chairman and CEO of Columbia Records. A rep for Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr., an Adele collaborator who's credited on 17, told Pitchfork that XXXTentacion's publisher set up their session. In December 2017, SONGS sold its catalog to rival music publisher Kobalt in a deal reportedly worth as much as $160 million.

XXXTentacion publicly maintained his innocence. In September 2017, between the release of 17 and word of XXXtentacion's signing to Capitol, further details of the harrowing allegations in his domestic violence case emerged: His ex-girlfriend testified to a sequence of emotional and physical abuse that culminated in XXXTentacion beating her until she lost vision, threatening her life, and holding her captive, all while she was allegedly pregnant with his child.

In the absence of an official comment about their relationship with XXXTentacion, Vivendi and its Universal subsidiaries left vague clues. In April, Universal announced a distribution deal with EMPIRE, a San Francisco music company that worked with XXXTentacion, among others. Upon XXXTentacion's June death, Caroline shared a two-sentence statement of condolences. As recently as July, The New York Times reported that "the degree of Universal's involvement in XXXTentacion's posthumous career [was] unclear." In August, Universal-owned merch company Bravado announced a new XXXTentacion clothing line. In September, XXXTentacion was featured on Universal artist Lil Wayne's long-anticipated album Tha Carter V.

XXXTentacion wasn't the only example of the mainstream music industry's struggles to address issues involved with the #MeToo movement this year. Days before the 2018 Grammy Awards, a study by University of Southern California professor Stacy L. Smith broke down the numbers behind the industry's vast gender gap. Only about 22 percent of performers on the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017 were female, according to the report. Over the same period, less than 10 percent of Grammy nominees were women.

On Grammy night, many artists and music executives wore white roses meant to symbolize "hope, peace, sympathy, and resistance," organized by executives Meg Harkins of Roc Nation and Karen Rait of Interscope. Janelle MonĂ¡e invoked Time's Up in an impassioned speech introducing Kesha, who then performed her searing 2017 ballad of survival, "Praying." But there was no mention of that song's widely presumed subject, Kesha's producer-turned-legal adversary Dr. Luke. Only 17 percent of the night's winners were women, with just one, Alessia Cara, winning a major award during the televised ceremony. Lorde, the lone female nominee for Album of the Year, didn't perform because she wasn't offered a solo slot.

The days after the Grammys brought glimmerings of consequences for the music industry's male leaders. Female executives called for Recording Academy head Neil Portnow to resign after he said in a post-ceremony interview that women who wanted to advance in the music industry needed to "step up." Separately, Universal placed Republic Records president Charlie Walk on leave after multiple women accused him of harassment and inappropriate touching. He also stepped down from his judge's seat on the Fox singing competition "The Four."

Despite these few moments of accountability, it was unclear how much the industry was doing to address men accused of misconduct toward women. Dr. Luke, who has denied Kesha's allegations of rape and abuse, continues to wage a defamation lawsuit against her in court. Since April 2017, he's no longer CEO of his Sony Music Group imprint, Kemosabe Records, but he keeps producing and writing songs for boldface names, including Big Boi and Ne-Yo. Months after the Grammys, Portnow announced plans to leave the Academy, though not until his contract expires in July 2019. As for Walk, following an investigation, he and Republic "mutually agreed to part ways," the label said in a terse statement. Walk, too, has denied the allegations against him, hiring Weinstein attorney Patty Glaser and claiming he was extorted.

Like Walk, influential music executive L.A. Reid was a judge on a Fox music show, sitting for two seasons on the U.S. version of "The X Factor." In May 2017, Sony Music issued a one-sentence statement that Reid would be leaving the company, where he had been CEO of Epic Records. The day after that statement was released, reports emerged that Reid faced multiple claims of sexual misconduct. By March of this year, Reid had reportedly raised more than $100 million for a new venture, Hitco, with Big Boi as its first signing; Hitco's distribution is through EMPIRE, which also distributes XXXTentacion. Reid has made no comment publicly about the allegations against him.

After facing sexual assault allegations last year, longtime music executive Russell Simmons, who co-founded Def Jam before selling his stake to Universal in 1999, was accused of rape in two separate lawsuits in 2018. In May, Simmons posted a statement supporting the #MeToo movement. "In the end I'll be fine," he wrote. He recently reiterated that he "wholeheartedly" backs #MeToo, and he is headed to trial next year in one of the rape lawsuits.

One common argument for why #MeToo has failed to take hold in the music industry is because the line between business and pleasure isn't always clear, thanks in part to the myth of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll; Dorothy Carvello, an Atlantic Records exec in the late 1980s, recently likened the workplace of that era to "a porn movie." Another contention is that it's a small industry that only got smaller throughout most of the 2000s. The Big Six major labels that ruled between 1988 and 1999 are down to the Big Three of Universal, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group, while overall sales, though up recently, are still down sharply from their late-'90s peaks, creating an environment where people might feel less inclined to potentially risk their jobs by calling out misconduct.

Yet another running theme about the industry and #MeToo is almost paradoxical. The industry, though downsized from what it once was, is still more fragmented than Hollywood or the media, where many men accused of abusive behavior have been fired in the wake of the Weinstein revelations. The music industry isn't really a single industry, but a sprawling ecosystem that encompasses live shows, merchandise, sound recording performance royalties, composition performance royalties, and beyond.

An activist campaign this year protesting R. Kelly highlighted such complexities. In April, activist group Women of Color of Time's Up called on Sony Music's RCA Records arm to cut ties with R. Kelly, who has faced accusations of sexual misconduct, including with underage girls, for most of his decades-long career with the label. He blasted the campaign as an "attempted lynching" and released a 19-minute song denying the allegations, titled "I Admit." Activist group Color of Change talked privately with an RCA executive about dropping Kelly, but the discussions fizzled. (RCA reps have repeatedly failed to respond to Pitchfork's requests for comment on Kelly, and a Sony Music spokesperson declined to comment for this story.)

Time's Up didn't only aim at RCA. The group also called on other businesses, including the streaming services Spotify and Apple Music, to "join us and insist on safety and dignity for women of all kinds." A month later, Spotify announced an ambitious but problematic policy that would have kept performers accused of "hateful conduct" from being promoted via the company's playlists—a move the company confirmed would apply to both Kelly and XXXTentacion.

A spokesperson for XXXTentacion, in response to an earlier request for comment on Spotify's "hateful" conduct policy, asked whether the rules would also apply to Ozzy Osbourne, Dr. Dre, Michael Jackson, and other music figures who have been accused of various misdeeds. Around the same time, the women's advocacy group UltraViolet issued a statement thanking Spotify for the policy and suggesting a list of additional artists to remove from playlists, which occasionally overlapped with the XXXTentacion rep's. NPR noted how these two opposing perspectives, with conflicting motivations, underlined the fact that choosing not to listen to any artist who has ever allegedly been associated with sexual misconduct or abuse could disqualify some of the men on pop culture's Mount Rushmore.

In June, reportedly under pressure from representatives for artists including Universal's Kendrick Lamar, Spotify walked back the policy, with CEO Daniel Ek conceding, "We rolled this out wrong and could have done a much better job." XXXTentacion's "SAD!"—which would top the Hot 100 when he died, largely based on its streams—thus returned to Spotify's influential RapCaviar playlist. The record industry's key gatekeeper took a step to address alleged abuse, and the move backfired.

As 2018 ground to a close, the industry continued its uncertain trajectory on these issues. In September, Sony's Columbia label put out a song with XXXTentacion and another deceased rapper, Lil Peep. The New York Times quoted Columbia chairman and CEO Ron Perry, who'd worked with XXXTentacion at SONGS, as saying of the Peep collaboration, "Honestly not putting it out would have felt like the wrong thing to do. What do you do—just sit on it?" (A spokesperson for Perry declined to comment for this article.) In October, Pitchfork obtained a posthumously released tape from around the time of XXXTentacion's 2016 arrest. On the tape, he can be heard talking about having abused his alleged victim. He also claimed responsibility for several stabbings. Days later, Warner released a collaborative track featuring XXXTentacion and fellow SoundCloud rapper Lil Pump.

In November, the rapper 6ix9ine, who'd gained an audience after pleading guilty to using a child in a sexual performance, was arrested on federal racketeering charges. Once again, here was a trouble-prone person whose success occurred not despite the mainstream music industry, but at least partly because of it. He was signed to a label, 10k Projects, led by Elliot Grainge—son of Universal's chairman and CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge. He hired the same entertainment lawyer, Robert Celestin, as XXXTentacion.

One industry figure linking XXXTentacion, Pump, and Peep is the BMX blogger turned rap vlogger known as Adam22. The most watched YouTube video interview by far on Adam22's No Jumper channel is a conversation in which XXXTentacion claims to have beaten a fellow juvenile-detention inmate almost to death for a look of perceived same-sex lust. In March 2018, Adam22 announced a partnership with Warner Music-owned Atlantic Records to launch a new imprint.

After the label announcement, two women told Pitchfork that Adam22 sexually assaulted them and then humiliated them online. At the time, an Atlantic spokesperson said, "We take any allegations of this nature very seriously and we are looking into them." In October, the Daily Beast reported further details of the accusations against Adam22, plus another woman's allegation that he gave her Xanax when she was inebriated, had sex with her, and videotaped it without her consent. Adam22 denied wrongdoing. On December 12, Atlantic shared a one-sentence statement with Pitchfork: "Atlantic Records and Adam22 have parted ways." Adam22 maintained the accusations had nothing to do with the label dropping him.

As the PowerPoint presentation's worth of Vivendi-owned labels and sub-labels involved with XXXTentacion indicates, today's music industry is more corporatized than ever. And Vivendi's scant disclosure around XXXTentacion may go beyond ethical concerns to pose a legitimate legal quandary: If a reasonable investor would have considered the rapper's signing important in deciding whether or not to buy or sell Vivendi stock, the company could potentially be at risk of securities-fraud lawsuits, Wall Street lawyer Bill Singer confirmed to Pitchfork. "Does it amount to some sort of corporate fraud that you would sign an artist and not make the disclosure?" Singer said. "It's an interesting question." XXXTentacion was certainly a big enough seller that Vivendi mentioned him in its earnings report, at a time when the company is shopping around its music group, but whether there was a responsibility to announce his signing is unclear.

Any no-tolerance policy by the music industry against men accused of abusing, sexually assaulting, or harassing women may ultimately depend on them no longer being marketable commodities. The CEO of BlackRock, world's biggest asset management company and Vivendi's second-biggest shareholder, urged companies this year to make "a positive contribution to society," but only in tandem with his call for them to focus on "long-term value creation." The gatekeeper position of streaming services complicates this further, because listeners might reward XXXTentacion without consciously choosing to, or without even knowing about his alleged and admitted misdeeds. Music from XXXTentacion's recent posthumous album Skins currently appears on Spotify's RapCaviar playlist and Apple Music's A-List: Hip-Hop playlist.

Changing the economic incentives of working with alleged abusers may depend more on what happens away from the spotlight. Music attorneys Monika Tashman, Dina LaPolt, Debbie White, and Jessie Winkler recently issued recommendations for how music industry lawyers can try to address #MeToo, starting with putting anti-harassment provisions into contracts for artists, employees, managers, agents, and producers. "There are warranties in every agreement where the parties promise to perform their obligations, not to lie, not to commit copyright infringement, how to deliver a record, to act in good faith and so on," the lawyers wrote. "Why shouldn't there be something in the agreement itself that sets forth some basis for proper behavior and general decency?"

On December 7, the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards arrived, and women were leading the way in major categories, including Cardi B, R&B singer/rapper H.E.R., and singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile. The same day, XXXTentacion's Skins was released independently through EMPIRE. In the days that followed, Lil Wayne paid tribute to XXXTentacion on "Colbert," the soundtrack to the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, featuring XXXTentacion as an unnamed "special guest," was released on Universal, and Skins debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. In its first week of release, the album's songs amassed more than 120 million streams on streaming services.

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