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NPR Arts & Life

Singer-Songwriter Ryan Adams Faces Allegations Of Emotional Abuse And Harassment

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Seven women are accusing singer-songwriter Ryan Adams of emotionally abusive behavior and harassment, according to a report out from The New York Times. They include an ex-wife, an ex-fiancee and a woman who was 14 when she began exchanging text messages with Adams. The women allege that he offered career opportunities and then would retract them when they refused his advances or ended relationships with him. Over Twitter, Ryan Adams described the Times article as upsettingly inaccurate.

We're joined now by Melena Ryzik. She co-wrote the story in The New York Times. Welcome to the program.

MELENA RYZIK: Thank you.

CORNISH: So for listeners who don't know Ryan Adams, he's an alt-rock singer-songwriter. He's been nominated for seven Grammys. He also has his own record label. Tell us what the women who've come forward have said.

RYZIK: Yeah. We - my colleague Joe Coscarelli and I spent five months talking to over a dozen associates of Ryan's. And ultimately, we spoke to seven women, ranging from a young woman who was a teenager when she began an online correspondence with Ryan, to his ex-wife Mandy Moore.

And a lot of the women we spoke to had both a professional and a personal connection with him, and that was part of his pattern of behavior. He would reach out to female artists. He would connect with them through music circles or online and flatter their talents, tell them that he wanted to work with them and then also pursue them for sex.

CORNISH: The most serious charge comes from an anonymous 20-year-old woman who says she was 14 when she first began exchanging messages with Adams. Can you tell us what happened?

RYZIK: Yeah. We called this woman Ava. That's her middle name. We're using that because she was a minor when these exchanges happened. They started communicating through DM on Twitter. As with many women that we saw, he started talking to her first about music. She's a musician herself. She played the bass. She was already actually even performing, kind of being treated as this young wunderkind. She was booking gigs in Manhattan. And they started talking about music, and their conversations eventually turn sexual.

They never met in person, but they did have this correspondence for 18 months or so. We reviewed 3,217 messages from a nine-month period alone - in which she was 15 and 16 - in which there was an exchange of sometimes explicit photographs and sexual behavior.

CORNISH: Could Adams face charges for exchanging photos with someone who is underage?

RYZIK: The laws vary state to state, but in Ohio, where she lived, it could be considered a felony to possess images or communications of a sexual nature with someone who was underage.

CORNISH: What did Ryan Adams have to say about your reporting? How has he responded?

RYZIK: Ryan has denied the allegations in this story most vociferously with respect to the young woman. He said that he didn't recall any of these 3,217 exchanges and that he would never have knowingly had a sexual relationship with a woman who was underage.

The young woman did at points in their correspondence tell him that she was older than she was, but he clearly was not convinced by that because it's something that he kept returning to throughout the messages, even as almost in the same breath he was indulging in these sexual scenarios.

CORNISH: One of the things that was clear by the end of your report is these women also talked about the fact that they found their music careers stalled or that they felt they couldn't pursue it. Was that common - a common thread?

RYZIK: Yeah. I think, you know, one of the things we look for when we do this kind of reporting is a pattern of behavior. And that was really something that emerged from this story, and actually, from a lot of stories of this type where you have a person abusing their power in an industry like this.

Mandy Moore is a good example. You know, we think of her now as this incredible famous actress, but she started out as a musician, started out as a singer. Music was always her first love. And when she and Ryan met, they actually met on tour. They were both on their individual tours. And she was exiting her teen pop years, and he offered this sort of vision of artistic credibility that seemed really appealing to her.

And right away, as they began their relationship, he dangled that, you know, I'll produce your album. I'll work with you. And though they did write songs together, he never recorded them. And when she tried to work with other people or suggested that she would, he would dissuade her and tell her he would put out her album. And again, it never happened.

So before they were married, she put out six albums - or the sixth album came out shortly after they got married. And she's not put out an album since. And she did feel like he was an impediment to her pursuing her passion.

CORNISH: There have been many allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment by men in Hollywood. I'd say with the exception of R. Kelly, we haven't heard that much about the music industry. Why do you think that is?

RYZIK: You know, I think there's a lot of reasons. I mean, the music industry is not a centralized field in terms of, you know, a big producer or a big studio or a big figure being able to control all that much. But it is still a male-dominated industry. And I think if you talk to women in the field, they definitely will say that inequitable treatment of women and harassment is pervasive.

I think maybe one of the reasons that we haven't heard as much about it is because it does still operate under that whole sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll culture. People think, well, this is what you sign up for when you get into the music industry, that if they had unpleasant or troubling or harassing experiences, that until now, they didn't think that if they talked about it anybody would care.

CORNISH: Melena Ryzik, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RYZIK: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Melena Ryzik is a culture reporter for The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.