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#MeToo vs. Music: What Fan Reaction to Simon Le Bon’s Alleged Groping Says About the Biz (Opinion)

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have always been a package deal with male music stars. They’re so intertwined that we almost expect — maybe even prefer — our pop and rock gods to be bad boys.

Male stars are held to ridiculously lower standards than female stars, and it’s evident in the relatively muted effect #MeToo has had on the music industry. Groupie culture and the casual exploitation of female sexuality in videos and photo shoots may also be partly to blame for music’s #MeToo claims not being taken as seriously as ones set on Hollywood casting couches.

That’s why Kesha and Taylor Swift deserve all the props we can give them. When the former “Tik Tok” party girl alleged that producer Dr. Luke had sexually assaulted her and Swift complained that radio DJ David Mueller groped her while they posed for a photo during her 2013 visit to the Colorado station where he worked, they were groundbreaking moments for women in music.

The Swift incident is remarkably similar to what Shereen Hariri says occurred between her and Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon, only the roles are reversed. Both took place during promotional appearances in one party’s workplace, but in Hariri’s story, the civilian is the one making the allegation of sexual misconduct about the superstar.

Hariri, 47, has accused Le Bon of groping her during a 1995 autograph signing at a Los Angeles record store where she worked at the time. According to Hariri, who is now a therapist, the singer grabbed her “right butt cheek” before “making his way down my butt to my genitals.”

Fan reaction to Hariri’s claim underscores how easy #MeToo has been on music stars. A number of big-name performers, including R. Kelly, Cee-Lo Green, and Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, have faced accusations of sexual misconduct (some pre-dating #MeToo), but so far, none of their careers have been ruined as thoroughly as Kevin Spacey’s and Matt Lauer’s have been.

A court forced Kesha to continue recording for Dr. Luke’s record label, despite her ongoing sexual assault case against him, and in February, Greenwood, Mississippi, radio station KIX 92.7 hired the DJ Swift accused of groping her as a morning-show co-host. Meanwhile, Le Bon’s career seems unlikely to take a major hit, unless records labels and concert promoters suddenly start taking #MeToo claims as seriously as movie studios and TV networks do.

The reputation of a TV or movie star might crumble under the weight of a similar allegation, but Twitter support for Le Bon has been strong, with Hariri accused of being a “cow,” a “slag,” and a #MeToo villain. Fans even dug up a photo of Le Bon and his Duran Duran bandmate Nick Rhodes at the 1995 autograph signing in defense of their star. Hariri, they insist, couldn’t possibly have squeezed into the tiny space behind him.

Le Bon, meanwhile, launched his own defense on Duran Duran’s official Facebook page.

“The behaviour that Ms Hariri has accused me of would have been just as inappropriate and unacceptable to me then as it is today,” he wrote. “But the allegation is simply untrue. When Ms Hariri first contacted me about her claim months ago, I proposed meeting with her in person so I could set the record straight. Instead, she has decided to pursue this publicly. I have always been one who can admit to my mistakes and apologise for my failings. But I cannot apologise for something I did not do.”

Fan response to the Facebook denial was mostly positive and mostly female. Perhaps we are more likely to give a pass to our male music idols (see the post-mortem martyrdom of the late rapper and accused abuser XXXTentacion) because we expect less from them and because our connections to music stars seems so personal.

While some Aziz Ansari fans turned on the comedian earlier this year after an anonymous woman accused him of being sexually aggressive during a date, diehard Duranies won’t write off Le Bon. He won’t become the poster boy for what not to do at an autograph signing the way Ansari, to many, morphed from Golden Globe winner into the embodiment of the date from hell.

Still, for a band that helped define the ’80s and enjoyed a massive resurgence in the ’90s, sexually charged moments must have been a fact of everyday life. If you Google “Duran Duran” and “groupie,” you’ll find a collection of eyebrow-raising fan encounters not surprising for former teen idols.

As the groped party and the superstar in her story, Swift had several things in her favor that Hariri lacks. First, she had the financial resources to successfully battle Mueller in court when he filed a $3 million suit against the singer, blaming her for getting him fired. There was also pictorial evidence to support Swift’s account of the encounter, and she didn’t wait 23 years to take action. She immediately reported Mueller to his superiors.

Would Swift’s day in court have ended with her beating the lawsuit and with a judge and jury awarding her the $1 she asked for in a sexual assault countersuit if she’d been up against an industry titan like Kesha was? It will take more big stars speaking up to tear down the playhouses of the Harvey Weinsteins and Bill Cosbys of music.

As for Le Bon, unless other women come forward or Hariri — who says she wants no compensation, only an apology — can prove her claims, there likely will be no lasting ramifications. If he’s innocent, that’s as it should be.

Even if he’s exonerated, it shouldn’t discourage women in the music industry from telling their stories. The statute of limitations may have run out on incidents that went down in the ’80s and ’90s, but we know they continue to happen today.

The music industry has a lot of catching up to do, though there’s hope for it yet. A few years ago, one woman’s story from more than two decades ago might have been buried. That we’re even talking about this one could be a sign of slowly changing times.

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