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Digging Deeper

The Beginning of the End: highlighting the hidden abuse of young women in the music industry 

My name is Ella Walker, also known as WILDES. On the cusp of releasing my debut album, I dig deeper into the dark reality behind these songs to shed light on the abuse I, and so many others have faced in this industry. 

When I was 17, I met the man who would become my mentor, manager, A&R, partner, and eventually, abuser. At the time I was hungry for a career in music; I didn’t know anyone, I hadn’t even finished school - but he was an older man who worked in the very industry I wanted to be in, and I was the girl who captured his attention. We would go on to work together and be in a secretive, coercive relationship for almost 6 years, until I finally summoned the courage to leave him. All of the red flags were there - huge displays of affection, promises of investment in my career, and expensive gifts that bought my loyalty. This was swiftly followed by intense criticism, rages, and gaslighting. I was sold a dream, and he was the sandman. It's a cliche to be a woman in music who has been exploited and abused, and the shame we carry is immense, but this banality betrays a more ominous truth: that the exploitation of young people, particularly young women, is still rife in music today.  

Research from the UK Musician’s Union reported that 48% of its members have experienced sexual harassment, while 58% of members have witnessed it, but are too afraid to report it. Society tells us we will not be believed, and while we risk our careers and reputations in search of justice, the men in positions of power remain exactly where they are. The nature of freelance work has created a breeding ground for exploitation without accountability, and there’s certainly no HR department. My abuser was my manager, my partner, my record label; he was in charge of my income and royalties and decided what I could, and couldn't release. Who do you ask for help when your most trusted colleague is also your perpetrator? Whilst I was not explicitly aware at the time that I was being groomed and manipulated, from the moment he kissed me, blurring the lines of our professional boundaries, it was implied that if I did not submit, I would lose access to the world I needed to forge my career. My silence began that day, but it ended when I left him, and I will continue to speak out about exploitation and abuse until this industry is a safe place for young women and non-binary people. Our stories have power. 

WILDES’ debut album ‘Other Words Fail Me’ is out 13th January 2023.

Words by Ella Walker / WILDES
Photography by Sequoia Ziff
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