Musician Ryan Adams is the latest powerful man to be accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era. In a new New York Times report, multiple women — including Adams’s ex-wife, the singer and actress Mandy Moore — say that Adams dangled professional opportunities in front of them and then used those opportunities to manipulate them into sex. In the relationships that ensued, these women say, Adams would become controlling and emotionally abusive. “Music was a point of control for him,” says Moore.
In a Twitter thread, Adams characterized the accusations against him as “upsettingly inaccurate,” saying, “Some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false.”
According to the Times article, Adams follows a pattern. He reportedly approaches aspiring young musicians and “love bombs” them, telling them they are brilliant and talented and that he would like to work with them. Usually, the women are at the beginning of their careers, and often they are very young; one woman whom the Times identifies as Ava says she was 14 when Adams first approached her online. “I was really alone,” Ava told the Times, “and he was really friendly and cool.”
(Adams denies that he ever engaged in this kind of behavior. In response to the Times’s report, he tweeted, “I would never have inappropriate interactions with someone I thought was underage. Period.”)
If a woman is responsive to Adams’s advances, he allegedly introduces sex into the relationship, and it does not seem to matter whether or not she is legally able to consent. The Times obtained text messages between Adams and Ava in which he appears to simultaneously fret over her age and indulge in sexual fantasies about her. “If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol,” he wrote in one exchange when Ava was 16. (Through a lawyer, Adams maintained to the Times that he did not know Ava’s age.) Ten minutes later, he added, “I just want you to touch your nipple.”
Even when the woman is of legal age to consent, her enthusiastic interest in a sexual encounter does not appear to be a prerequisite. Artist Courtney Jaye described Adams to the New York Times as “Hurricane Ryan,” saying that when she met with him to ostensibly collaborate on an album together, Adams began aggressively flirting with her. “I just shut myself off,” she told the Times, and the two ended up in bed together. Jaye added that she “felt shaken by how smoothly Adams had taken advantage of her.”
But if Adams is rejected, the Times says, he rapidly withdraws his professional attentions. Once Jaye expressed her discomfort to Adams, she says that plans for them to collaborate on an album together evaporated. Musician Phoebe Bridgers told the Times that when she broke up with Adams after a whirlwind relationship that she describes as controlling (she said he threatened suicide when she didn’t respond to his texts), he withdrew his offer to have her open for him at concerts and delayed releasing the songs they recorded together.
The Times’s reporting also suggests that even when the relationships last, Adams tends to avoid delivering on his promises of professional help. When Mandy Moore began her relationship with Adams in 2007, when she was 23, she was in the midst of the tricky transition from teen pop star to serious adult musician. Moore tells the Times that with Adams’s encouragement, she entrusted him with managing that transition. The pair married in 2009, and by 2010, she didn’t have any managers or producers besides him.
But Adams didn’t help Moore become a star as an adult. Instead, Moore says, he would refuse to record songs they wrote together. He would double-book her studio time with other female musicians and, according to Moore, was consistently demeaning. “He would always tell me, ‘You’re not a real musician, because you don’t play an instrument,’” she says. The pair divorced in 2016, describing the decision at the time as a “respectful, amicable parting of ways.”
In his Twitter statement, Adams apologized “to anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally,” but maintained that the Times’s report is largely inaccurate. However, a screencap posted by journalist Amy O’Connor of what appears to be a deleted tweet from Adams’s account, posted shortly before the Times article published, suggests a much angrier reaction on Adams’s part.
“Run your smear piece, but the legal eagles see you. Rats,” the screencap says. “I’m fucking taking you down. Let’s learn I bait.”
Worth noting that Ryan Adams sent this deranged (and now deleted) tweet earlier today ahead of the New York Times exposé being published. pic.twitter.com/rd8mVkSEQk— ⭐ amy o'connor ⭐ (@amyohconnor) February 13, 2019
The women speaking out against Adams consistently say that he made it difficult or impossible for them to make music
Most of what Ryan Adams is accused of doing is probably not illegal. Sexting with minors and soliciting nudes from them — as Adams allegedly did with Ava — is illegal, but otherwise, there is little legislation against being gross and manipulative and demeaning. But that doesn’t mean that what Adams is accused of isn’t still both wrong and immensely damaging.
What is most heartbreaking about the Times article is the number of women quoted in it who say they stopped making music because of Ryan Adams.
Ava was a talented bassist who started playing professionally when she was 12 years old. But her experience with Adams “just totally put me off to the whole idea” of working as a musician, she told the Times. Now she’s 20 and she doesn’t play music professionally anymore.
“Something changed in me that year,” Jaye said of the period during which she tried to collaborate with Adams. “It made me just not want to make music.”
“[Adams’s] controlling behavior essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time — my entire mid-to-late 20s,” said Moore. She has released no new albums since shortly after she and Adams got married in 2009.
Moore now says she plans to return to her music career. “I want to make music,” she told the Times. “I’m not going to let Ryan stop me.” But we have no way of knowing what kind of music we missed out on from her over the past 10 years.
When the #MeToo movement began to take off in 2017, Caroline Framke argued for Vox that instead of focusing on all the art that had been tainted for us by accused sexual predators — the Annie Halls, the Louies — we should think about all the art that could have been created by those predators’ victims, art that we will never get to see. “Mourn the creators who never got a chance, the work that was never created, the potential that was crushed,” she wrote, “all because too many people were too wrapped up in maintaining the status quo to call out those who abused it.”
The Times article is a visceral reminder of the amount of music that we could have heard and won’t now, because of one allegedly manipulative, controlling, and abusive gatekeeper. Maybe that music would have been brilliant, and maybe it would have been terrible, and maybe it would have been mediocre, but we’ll never get to know either way. And that’s a tragedy.