The death of artist Juice WRLD earlier this week is still raw in the minds of his fans, friends and the teams that worked with him. It’s important, as in any case like this, to avoid jumping to conclusions and assigning blame. However, his death is already sparking a renewed debate about wellbeing and the support that artists may need, especially when their rise to fame has been as swift as it can be in this digital age.
Both the New York Times and Vulture have published articles asking similar questions about the deaths of Juice WRLD and fellow ‘SoundCloud rappers’ Lil Peep (in November 2017) and XXXTentacion (in June 2018). “It is awful to watch a promising scene crumble into nothingness. It’s more awful to know that there are systems in place to quickly extract maximum value from the art produced by its creators, but essentially none designed to protect them from the challenges that quick success can bring,” is how the NYT put it.
“We should ask record labels to do more to coach artists on how to weather rapid changes in their living circumstances and press for a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological weight that leads to drug use, and not just the fallout from artists getting too far into it,” added Vulture. “If rap’s your business, then rappers are your responsibility. They’re not just quick investments, good to tap when their names are hot but not so much when they start spiraling out.”
Both articles are worth reading, whatever your role in the music industry. What is encouraging, though, is that the topic of artists’ wellbeing (from mental health to lifestyle issues) is already generating action, as well as talk within the music industry. The latest example came yesterday from US collecting society ASCAP, which is launching a wellness programme called ‘TuneUp’ to offer its members help and support. The impetus was a survey of those members that found they are “31% more likely than the general population to say that their health and wellness have a major impact on their careers”.
As part of the initiative, ASCAP members are getting access to/discounts on services and products built around mental health support, mindfulness and exercise/nutrition. It will also run support groups in US cities with MusiCares as well as a series of TuneUp wellness events starting in the new year. It’s another step in the right direction, but as Vulture’s ‘We’re Losing Another Rap Generation Right Before Our Eyes’ headline hammers home, there’s a pressing need for more talk, more action and more empathy with the pressures that modern artists are under – not just within our industry’s context, but wider society too.