Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Ambassador of Music

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Ambassador of Music

Article excerpt

Hilary Rosen, the lesbian president of the Recording Industry Association of America, opens up about Eminem's lyrics, battling Napster, and being gay in the music business--and in George W. Bush's Washington

As Elton John and rap star Eminem launched into their remarkable duet at the Grammy awards in February, no one was more engrossed than Hilary Rosen, sitting not far from center stage. Some gay and lesbian activists criticized John's decision to share a stage with Eminem, ne Marshall Mathers, who remains unrepentant about the homophobic content of his music. But Rosen, the openly lesbian president of the Recording Industry Association of America--which represents the mainstream recording business in legal and lobbying efforts--applauded the performance.

"I thought it was a mistake to attack Elton for appearing with Eminem," she explains. "I talked with Elton about it. I think he made a principled decision that music is especially important to build bridges. That's what that performance did, and I was proud of Elton for doing it."

For Rosen, being in the center of a culture war is hardly unusual. In recent months she has been the RIAA's most public face in its court campaign against Napster, the phenomenally popular music-sharing service on the Web, and its imitators. The RIAA won the most recent round, and Napster was ordered to block access to many copyrighted songs. The RIAA's position--that file sharing on the Web needs tight controls--has won Rosen both foes and fans among gay and lesbian artists.

Whatever one's opinion of her stances, there is no doubt about Rosen's effectiveness in advocating for the recording business. At 43, Rosen is one of the nation's highest-paid and highest-profile lobbyists, a standing she often leverages to "pound some marble" for gay causes with her equally influential partner, Human Rights Campaign executive director Elizabeth Birch.

Despite her visible roles, these days she spends much of her free time at home in a Maryland suburb of D.C., with Birch and their twins, Jacob and Anna Rosen-Birch, whom the couple adopted in 1999. The Advocate talked to the outspoken Rosen at RIAA's sleek Washington headquarters about Napster, Eminem, and the state of affairs for gay and lesbian recording artists.

You were at the center of the debate over Eminem's antigay lyrics. As a lesbian and a woman, how do you balance the industry's support for free expression with its responsibility to discourage prejudice?

Elizabeth and I obviously disagree on this issue--the one disagreement we have had all year, in fact, as I should probably point out to Advocate readers. I think Eminem is a brat. I think he's obnoxious. I'm just personally a lot less offended by words than by actions, by music than by beatings. He's a legitimate artist because what he's talking about does exist, and that's what artists do.

Have you spoken to Marshall Mathers about his lyrics?

I've met Marshall. I can't say we've really talked, but we've been introduced.

Is this a learning process for him?

I frankly don't think he's quite mature enough to have learned much of a lesson yet. But I think there was a lot of teaching going on at the Grammys.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and conservatives like Lylme Cheney--

Strange bedfellows--

--joined forces in raising the possibility that some young people might take the lyrics the wrong way, about the potential for them to translate into violence against women and gay bashing.

I'll probably get hate mail from Advocate readers, but I don't buy it. It's not because I believe the First Amendment gives artists the right to do anything. I'm making a defense based on artistic and creative license. If young people hear about hate or violence or sex for the first time in their lives from music, something else in their life is fucked up. The music exists in the social context of the world in which we live. …

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