Allegations of abuse and impropriety in the New Zealand music business have caused a second major manager to resign, following earlier news that Lorde’s ex-manager had stepped down from his firm. Now the former manager of “Supalonely” singer Benee, Paul McKessar, has left the firm he cofounded and directed, CRS Management director, after after days of addressing charges of sexual harassment.
The scandals have arisen largely as a result of the New Zealand publication Stuff publishing an investigative report revealing a rampant culture of misogyny and exploitation behind the scenes in the business.
“Paul will remain stood down indefinitely,” said McKessar’s partner at CRS, Campbell Smith, in a statement. “I will reconsider this position when the investigation is completed and a report outlining its findings and recommendations has been delivered. We will do better.”
Smith apologized publicly to two artists that had made allegations against McKessar in Stuff’s report. “To Possum Plows (formerly of the band Openside) and Lydia Cole I unreservedly apologize,” Smith wrote. “This should not have happened to you, and I am determined to take steps to ensure other artists and people working in our industry are treated with respect.”
“It is extremely encouraging to see CRS taking this seriously,” said Plows in response. “I deeply hope that this is only the start of some much needed systemic change for our community.” Cole said she was “exhausted but empowered” after airing her experiences.
The moves at CRS followed Scott Maclachlan, who discovered Lorde, admitting to years of harassment after Stuff’s report. He was fired by Warner Music Australasia on Sunday.
New Zealand is hardly the only place where sexual harassment or assault in the music business is continuing to come to light. On Wednesday, the BBC aired a documentary titled “Music’s Dirty Secret: Women Fight Back,” which examined rape charges against the late Erick Morillo and grime artist Solo 45. In America, meanwhile, the music industry was paying attention over the weekend to an L.A. Times report on the sudden downfall of indie-rock collective Burger Records after multiple stories of exploitation by young female musicians and fans on the scene came to light.
In New Zealand earlier this week, before stepping down, McKessar had already returned his 2020 Aotearoa Music Awards manager of the year award, which he had received Dec. 1, and apologized for “crossing professional boundaries.”
“I am truly sorry for the pain I caused Possum and Lydia,” McKessar wrote on his Instagram account Monday. “There’s no excuse for crossing professional boundaries. I am continuing the personal work required to be a better and more accountable member of the music community. I also appreciate it shouldn’t take a brave stance to enact change, and I hope theirs brings more progress to our entire community. I wholeheartedly apologize to them both.”
Both Plows and Cole had criticized McKessar on Monday for apologizing publicly without having personally apologized to them first, characterizing his public repentance as “performative.” He was reported to have emailed Cole later on Monday with a personal apology.
Stuff’s iniital story Jan. 24 said the publication had “uncovered allegations by women and non-binary people of harassment by male artists, international acts and executives — and has prompted an extraordinary admission and apology from one of the industry’s best-known names,” referring to Maclachlan. “I do accept the harmful impact of my past behavior and I try every day to repair the damage and prevent it happening again,” Maclachlan told Stuff. The exec was best known internationally for discovering Lorde at age 13 and mentoring her for years, although they severed business ties in 2015.
In the Stuff story, Plows recounted a year-long sexual relationship with McKessar, which the magazine said was consensual but “characterized by a steep power imbalance.”
“I wouldn’t go anywhere or meet anyone without him saying it was okay,” Plows said. “I depended on him so much for my career, I didn’t have the autonomy to call him out on the relationship. I cared about the band so much, this just had to be fine. Because what else am I going to do? Leaving wasn’t an option, and neither was telling anyone about what was happening. Paul was extremely charismatic, well connected and well liked. The industry would be loyal to him.”
Cole was quoted as saying she cut off her business relationship with McKessar after an “alcohol-fueled, sexually charged encounter at his Morningside studios” in 2015.
Benee and Lorde were not among those making public allegations in Stuff’s reporting.