The music scene that Lydia Liza entered as a 16-year-old, “vulnerable in every sense of the word,” was full of men and full of threats. Men who groomed her with bad intentions, men who kissed her without her permission.
Soon, she and her guitar will return to venues again. But thanks to a #MeToo reckoning that’s been playing out backstage, that scene will be different, she hopes. She will be different, at least.
“I never really was worried about losing a reputation or ruining my music career, because who wants to be in an industry that is built on cruelty?” she said. “I want to be there for other women in the scene … because nobody lifted me up the way I really needed.”
Last summer, Liza and other female and nonbinary musicians made it their mission to compile the countless allegations swirling through the Minnesota music scene, sharing stories and naming names. For weeks Liza received and reposted allegations new and old, of verbal abuse and sexual assault, rape and disrespect. At one point, she got hundreds a day. Screenshot after screenshot, story after story.
While these musicians shared stories on social media, a rapper was leading a boycott of the Rhymesayers record label and journalists were publicly calling on their employers to investigate the claims.
It was both distressing and powerful, survivors said. Messy, too. But out of it grew a movement.
Amplified by social media, the kind of stories whispered for decades now reverberate through a music community grappling with harmful behavior by men. The sexual misconduct allegations last month that derailed Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillmann’s career are just the most recent fallout. At least a half-dozen prominent musicians and one radio DJ have been sidelined, too.
One musician was accused of repeatedly raping a young woman who said she was too drunk to consent. Another allegedly groomed two younger female musicians into relationships they say turned into assault. Another tried to force a young woman to perform oral sex after a show.
Male musicians drunk on local fame — and often alcohol, too — are finally facing demands that they take responsibility for toxic behavior born of the tired old “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” ethos, a tidal change that women in the industry say is long overdue.
“It’s always been this bad,” said Minneapolis-raised music writer Jessica Hopper, a childhood friend of Tillmann’s who spoke out last month in support of local survivors. “The difference is, we’re holding people to a higher standard.”
Survivors of abuse are being heard and bringing about change. Mistrustful of police and news media, they’re confronting abusers and telling their stories on their own terms via private Facebook groups, anonymous Instagram stories and very public tweets.
They’re inspiring more women (and girls, too, sadly) to share their stories. They’re pressuring music venues and radio stations to not promote the violators.
They’re organizing a task force and proposing their own safe-haven music venue — Auntie’s, which promises to be “a venue owned by womxn of color rooted in radical freedom of expression without judgment [and] leading with loving accountability.”
Still in development after a $70,000 GoFundMe campaign, the project was announced last summer by musicians Sophia Eris (Lizzo’s main sidekick), DJ Keezy and Lady Midnight after a flood of #MeToo-style stories. Auntie’s leaders declined to comment for this report.
Another sign of the growing momentum was the “#MeTooMpls” charity album. Issued last summer, but in the works since 2019, it featured songs about abuse and harassment by 17 Minnesota women and nonbinary songwriters, from rocker Tina Schlieske to folkie Chastity Brown to electro-pop singer Ro Lorenzen of Static Panic.
All this work “is a great, big step toward progression,” said Lorenzen, who has regularly faced harassment. “There’s still a long ways to go.”