Brianna Agyemang (L) and Jamila Thomas (R) at the Billboard Women In Music 2020 event
Photo: 2020 Billboard Women In Music/Getty Images for Billboard
#TheShowMustBePaused Creators Brianna Agyemang & Jamila Thomas Talk Vision, Next Steps
Last Tuesday, June 2, the music industry came to a sudden stop for #TheShowMustBePaused movement envisioned by Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. While the message may have been muddied by brands and others posting black boxes, the mission was effective—major labels and music orgs closed shop for the day and joined conversations on making real change.
Today, in an in-depth interview with Billboard, the two New York music executives share their vision for moving the industry forward and the important purpose behind the pause.
"We're taking it one day at a time. No one thought [we] could black out the industry, but they couldn't keep Brianna and me from trying," Thomas, who's the senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, said.
"We're the least expected, but we're here for a reason—and we're not going away," Agyemang added; she's the senior artist campaign manager at Platoon, Apple's artist-services division.
"We had found out about George Floyd's killing, after those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, at the hands of police. It was just a really heavy week for the Black community. And people still had to work. It didn't seem like anyone had a chance to really take in what was happening in the middle of the coronavirus, which was also attacking the Black community disproportionately. It was just a lot while trying to keep the show moving. So I called Jamila that Friday [May 29] and said we should take the day off, that it's not business as usual. Then we came up with the tagline #TheShowMustBePaused and some graphics," Agyemang explained, sharing the emotional week that pushed them to action.
"As our friends began posting, it spread like wildfire. Then people started reaching out, asking, 'OK, where and when do we want to pause?' It just kind of centered ourselves as a community. We wanted to make sure that if people were willing to take that pause along with us that we—if they were asking what they could do on Tuesday—would help provide them with things to do. So we went into planning mode."
For their "day off," two women hosted a digital summit that brought together music professionals of all stripes to talk change, with almost 1,500 joining the productive conversations.
"We held three different discussions during that one day. We reached out to people directly, sending them invitations to join us for a community conversation. The turnout was overwhelming, with nearly 1,500 people joining overall, from top-level executives, artists and lawyers to interns. The idea was to talk to everyone about developing a realistic plan for moving forward," Thomas told Billboard.
"Urban artists occupy most of the music charts, and we celebrate the genres [R&B/hip-hop] at industry events and the GRAMMYs. But when that community takes a hit, it seems like it's every man for himself. You can post something if you want. Or you can donate. But there's never a united front. Progress is needed in the work space, and progress is needed in the streets.
There's no better time to do it than now, because the country is literally in a moment of transition. And music has to be at the forefront of that because of its influence. It starts with us working together. All those partners coming together on that call and blacking out on Tuesday was the first time that has ever happened. If we can just keep that same spirit going, then change will come," she added, explaining the topics they delved into during the summit.
"After the summit, there were so many announcements from labels and other companies. I felt inspired from this."
"The conversations were done in a safe space because we wanted to make sure people felt comfortable talking, being vulnerable and sharing their feelings or providing solutions and ideas," Agyemang said. "I wished we had had more time to talk that day. What I loved most is that it felt very positive. While we do have things that need to change, it didn’t feel like it was impossible based on those conversations. It definitely feels more like a whole music community now than I will say it felt in the past."
And those boxes? It was never part of the plan. There was nothing they could do to stop people from posting them, so they focused on making sure the resources to take action were clear and accessible.
"Our graphic copy explained the reason for the music business blackout. And at the bottom was the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. That was always our hashtag. But it was like the game of telephone: Things get muddled in the communication," Agyemang explained. "The goal was not to mute ourselves. The goal was to take a break from your daily nine-to-five duties to refocus and recenter. And that meant that you could take a pause and just breathe. Or take a moment to think or use that time to focus on what you could do within your community to make a change and help make progress as well."
"People move so fast online. So we quickly took action to tell people about things they could do on Tuesday to help. We had to double down and tell our friends that we wanted them to communicate where people could donate, where they could march, pray or speak to a therapist. We had put together information for the summit we were holding that day. We wanted to let people know that now that we have you here, we want to talk to you all. That this wasn't a date to be silent," Thomas added.
This is just the beginning for the powerhouse pair and the collation of changemakers they've already formed—they are actively planning the second phase of action for #TheShowMustBePaused.
"We didn't put our names on the original graphic because it's not about us. It's about a movement for all of us. We're humbled by all the support but we're also not afraid. We're assuming this leadership role, honored that people trust us to lead them to the next steps, working together as a community," Thomas stated.
"We literally stopped major companies for a day to come up with plans on how to help the black community and move forward. It has been a success thus far, and it has only been a week. We're just going to continue to move in a positive direction," Agyemang noted. "When George Floyd died, it was like, 'Here's another thing after Ahmaud Arbery, after Breonna Taylor, after COVID-19.' [Tuesday] was a way for people to release and pause, because in the end we have to fix it and we have to heal as a society. And we can do this by changing the future."