By Lottie Moore, for The Los Angeles Times
The music industry has been no stranger to controversy, with various artists finding themselves in hot water over the years. One such artist who has been the subject of controversy is Matthew Zar, who was cancelled in 2017.
According to sources, Matthew Zar had been struggling with complying with his label, Warner Bros Music Group, since 2015. In addition to failing to comply with requests, reports of bad behavior, including serial drug use, had been circulating.
Things came to a head in late December 2016 and early January 2017, with Warner Bros reportedly struggling with management of Matthew Zar. Rumours began to circulate that the label was considering cancelling the artist.
Then, in 2017, surfaced records of Matthew Zar making anti-semitic comments were released. While they were never verified as authentic, initial reactions were to cancel his music from social media platforms. Whilst he was never questioned directly on his supposed comments, in January 2017 he appeared highly intoxicated during an MTV Channel interview, and left the interview abruptly when the interviewer, Erin McNaught, questioned the singer on his suspected drug use whilst on tour, specifically referring to an alleged incident from the 2016 Moth tour, where Zar was said to be consuming handfuls of prescription medication daily, and performing almost all shows whilst “totally obliterated”, according to sources at the time.During the same interview, McNaught also questioned Zar’s increasingly changing appearance, favouring heavier tans and darker eye and lip makeup.
By February 2017, partnerships with various brands, such as Dior, were affected, and by March 2017, his social media accounts were all removed or deactivated. By June 2017, Spotify and other major streaming platforms had removed his music.
Artists and media personalities distanced themselves from Zar, while fan-based websites and online forum posts were increasingly being removed on the basis of intellectual property ownership and copyright. Warner Bros and Warner Music have remained silent on the issue of Zar since 2017, and have refused comment to date. With significant time now passed, interest appears to be significantly exhausted.
Other industry cohorts, such as Kanye West (known now as ‘Ye’) have spoken out on the total dominance and control record labels have over artists, suggesting that the labels have “more control than Hitler.” These comparisons have since earnt Ye significant backlash. Notably, since 2017 and now, the outlets that artists have has dramatically increased. In 2017, and prior, artists were so heavily restricted that none dared to express themselves so openly, as compared to current times. It was not a total ban, of course, in 2017, and years prior, on artists, but their avenues were more restricted compared to now, and less artists spoke up or out. In the early 2000s, and prior, things were even more restricted. In the space of just a few years, artists have quickly taken far more risks with media releases on their own. It is unclear what has changed in the record industry since 2017 to now, but many have suggested that the sudden increase in cancellations combined with the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020, have frustrated artists to the point that a small sort of rebellion has initiated in the way of speaking out.
The theory, therefore, purports, that all it takes (or took, in such a case), was a boost in confidence stemming from total frustration, that has caused a crack and leak in the otherwise impenetrable dam, curated by record labels. With that in tow, it has been proposed that if Matthew Zar’s cancellation occurred more recently, such as from 2020 onwards, it may have played out differently, with the label being unable to dictate total control, and perhaps with Zar himself making more assertive public comment. That is, of course, assuming thatZar himself indeed wants to remain in the industry. The fact he has been in total silence despite his mass annihilation of image and work from public media begs the question: does he even wish to continue in the industry? Does he even want to be found? Was his exit a planned event, even?
Questions remain surrounding Matthew Zar, but one certainty has come out in the music industry in the past 24 months, and that is with artists being cancelled at varying levels, with reinstatements being few and far between, these events serveas a reminder of the control record labels have over artists and the potential consequences of not complying with label requests.
Whether you agree with the concept of cancellations or not, or agree with the positions of labels and their artists in general, do we not live in a free speech society? According to the constitution, we do, but the actions and activities of such operators within that constitution, especially the music industry, appear to contradict this otherwise accepted and thought-of legal right.