Blackout Tuesday: the power of silence in a noisy world

What was the original meaning behind Blackout Tuesday? Holly Margerrison explores the initiative within the music industry.

Holly Margerrison
12th June 2020
Image: Instagram (@theshowmustbepaused)
Music is a powerful tool. Its rhythm can get us interacting when we feel like blocking the world out. Its healing powers can encourage us to confront difficult experiences. Its lyrics can evoke something in us we didn't know existed. So what happens when music stops and the world goes silent?

Those little black squares that filtered onto everyone's feeds last Tuesday sparked controversy: whilst, yes, they allowed people to show their support for black lives, they simultaneously blocked out important resources, petitions and links to funds.

Before we could question where the initiative originated from in the first place, people were jumping on the bandwagon and captioning their posts with #blacklivesmatter and #blackouttuesday. But what many didn't realise is that it was founded by the music industry.

Black women organisers in the music industry collaborated under the hashtag "the show must be paused". But why? The music industry was said to hit $19bn in sales in 2018, yet black voices continue to be exploited; black women face a much harder time in the spotlight and there are inclusivity issues. Whilst white artists have been able to profit off cultural appropriation with little backlash, it is time black artists are given credit for their authenticity.

Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, the women behind #TheShowMustBePaused, are advocating transparent measures to be put in place that will empower black communities and create an equitable future.

"The music industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. An industry that has profited predominantly from Black art. Our mission is to hold accountable the industry at large, including major corporations and their partners, who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people."

Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang

It was not solely producers that were behind the campaign – streaming services, record labels and musicians were showing their solidarity for the cause. Some Spotify playlists included an 8-minute, 45-second track of silence to mark the time it took for Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department to suffocate George Floyd. Apple Music promoted a "For Us, By US" playlist. Amazon and YouTube took similar measures and others promoted ways of streaming music with adverts, in which the money went towards Black Lives Matter Funds.

Whilst diversity and inclusion in the music industry cannot change overnight, the silence does allow a moments pause. We know the power of music and the way in which those in power can use their wide resources to influence the public.

But as we move forward, the music industry must ensure their Blackout Tuesday commitments aren't mere empty promises that fill another day of lockdown. Action is needed, and it's needed now. Because, sometimes, words aren't enough.

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