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Nine of the 10 Highest-Paid Musicians of 2021 Were Men

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Of all the supposedly “pandemic-proof” jobs out there, here’s a surprising one: rock star. The world’s 10 highest-paid musicians of 2021 raked in a combined $2.3 billion, more than double what they were making on an annual basis in the years right before Covid-19.

The coronavirus has decimated touring, with brutal effects for artists who rely on gigs as a primary source of income. But up in the stratosphere, icons from Bruce Springsteen to Paul Simon found other ways to cash in — namely by offloading their catalogs for nine-figure sums.

“These are almost like pieces of art — there’s a finite number of real, super-high-quality hit songs from the past — and there’s this sort of all-out grab to own those rights,” says Josh Gruss, founder and CEO of Round Hill Music, which has spent $1.3 billion on music copyrights over the past decade. “It’s a very steady stream of revenue that’s there, and that makes it very attractive for investment.”

Only Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift made the cut without a massive catalog sale (scroll down to see the full ranking). The remaining seven of music’s 10 top earners banked the bulk of their bucks by selling copyrights. Underscoring the industry’s persistent pay gap, they’re all white men (Stevie Nicks sold her catalog for $100 million in December 2020, just missing our cutoff). You have to expand to the top 15 to find music’s second highest-paid woman or an act born outside the United States.

This unfortunate reality has roots as old as the music business itself, particularly when it comes to gender disparity. For every Springsteen signed to a record deal, how many female rockers were ignored? For every Dylan given freedom to write his songs — and accumulate intellectual property — how many women got pigeonholed as just singers? For every Simon who maintained or negotiated the return of his rights decades ago, how many female icons were denied that respect? And so it goes for so many underrepresented demographics in the industry.

There are at least few younger names amongst all the septuagenarian centimillionaires. Some of the bigger catalog sales, like Ryan Tedder’s $200 million deal, have already been reported. Others, including Blake Shelton’s $50 million-plus rights sale, have not. Regardless, it’s clear investors are finally seeing the value of music in the streaming age — for better or worse.

“There’s great irony in the fact that while Wall Street takes note of songs’ value, the digital platforms often don’t,” says Jody Gerson, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group. “Which means we must continue to fight for our songwriters both in terms of the value of what they create and in terms of the treating songs as art, not as assets.”

So, for music’s one-percenters, what’s the incentive to sell? There’s a range of factors, some of them arcane and overlooked, like tax rates: The sale of a catalog is typically treated as a capital gain, and therefore taxed at a much lower rate than a royalty check.

Then there’s the fact that music consumption continues to soar, with global on-demand spins surging 26.3% year-over-year. That figure got a major boost from back catalog streaming, which spiked 19.3% this year and accounted for 69.8% of overall listening.

On top of that, low interest rates around the world mean megabuyers like private-equity firm KKR and Merck Mercuriadis’ Hipgnosis Songs Fund can afford to borrow cheaply, spurring them to pay higher multiples and write larger checks.

But many insiders feel these conditions are likely to shift in the not-so-distant future. Some expect to see tax-code changes, while others worry rising inflation could lead to higher interest rates.

“That has to cause some sort of adjustment in the multiples being paid,” says Gruss, who believes the music-rights market is nearing its peak, at least on the high end. “But I’ve been wrong before — every year when I think it’s maxed out, it keeps going.”

Read on to see the full ranking of the world’s top-earning musicians. The list measures pretax income for calendar year 2021 before deducting fees for agents, managers, lawyers, living expenses, etc. Estimates are generated by scouring public documents and interviewing individuals with direct knowledge of major deals.

After a decade at Forbes, Zack O’Malley Greenburg covers the business of music at Substack — find his work, including top earners No. 11-15, here. He’s the author of four music books, including the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Vanity Fair.

Photo Illustrations by Sean McCabe for Rolling Stone. Photographs in illustrations by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP (Swift); Jason Kempin/ACMA2021/Getty Images (Shelton); Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP (Motley Crüe); Lauren Dukoff (Buckingham); Gus Van Zant (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Hubert Boesl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP (Tedder); David Livingston/Getty Images (West); Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images (Simon); Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Sipa USA/AP (Jay-Z); Danny Clinch (Springsteen)

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ASAP Bari Says He’s Against Sexual Acts Involving Both Men and Women

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ASAP Bari is finding himself in the media after a few comments he made to his Instagram are raising a few eyebrows from his supporters, being that the 30-year-old was spotted attending Paris Fashion Week alongside Pharell Williams and Kanye West, Gunna, and Julia Fox at the start of this week.

“Y’all females better watch out from These low key gay n*ggas…Y’all better stop going through n*gga texts and start looking at they pornhub Lol…F*cking girls and guys was never cool,” he wrote on his story.

“I love gay ppl by the way I hate low key gay n*ggas who deal with females but on the low date guys,” ASAP Bari continued. “Stay True to urself and others.”

While many supporters of the influencer seemed to agree with his words, others were upset about his homophobic comments, sparking outrage on social media.

For someone who hates gay dudes he sure does talk about them a lot

— pierre drop ig hoes (@BigOleDoggy1056) January 25, 2022

Some social media users even brought up Bari’s sexual assault case from three years ago where he was accused of aggressively slapping a woman’s rear end and then demanding oral sex from her.

who cares what convicted rapist asap bari has to say man

— ard (@SAINt_ARD) January 25, 2022

Check out the conversation here.

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Travis Scott Fans Start Petition to Have Rapper Perform at Coachella 2023

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Travis Scott fans unite.

Since the tragedy that took place at the Astro World festival, Travis Scott has been in a bad spot in the public eye as many feel the rapper should be held accountable for the ten lives that were lost at his Houston festival.

Back in November, Travis Scott would hold a music festival with over 50,000 attendees. The pressure of so many people packed together in a tight space caused a drastic tragedy that would leave 10 attendees dead and hundreds injured. Following the festival, Scott offered to help pay for funeral costs for some of the victims of the tragedy but his offerings were turned down.

As the news of the tragedy got larger in the media, Scott began to go silent while many festivals began to remove the performer from their lineup including Coachella.

Travis Scott really wanted to perform for his fans at the upcoming Coachella festival this year, and even reportedly offered to perform for free before being denied all around.

It seems as though Travis Scott fans are trying to make their voices heard following a petition recently started for the rapper to perform at Coachella in 2023. The petition reportedly received over 70,000 signatures.

“After Coachella unfairly removed Travis Scott for Harry Styles, they need to do the right thing and rebook him immediately. Coachella switched Travis and Frank for Harry Styles and Billie Eilish? What kind of message does that send?” the petition reads.

It seems unlikely that Scott will be able to redeem himself anytime soon, however it’s surprising to see the rapper receive support from fans at this time.

Do you think Scott should be allowed to perform on big stages again? Share your thoughts with us on social media.

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Hear the Famously Awful Smiths Song Morrissey Called Out in Letter to Johnny Marr

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It’s not quite clear what Johnny Marr said recently to piss off Morrissey, but it resulted in an extremely bitchy “open letter” from the former Smiths singer to his one-time guitarist and songwriting partner.

“You don’t know me,” Morrissey wrote. “You know nothing of my life, my intentions, my thoughts, my feelings. Yet you talk as if you were my personal psychiatrist with consistent and uninterrupted access to my instincts. We haven’t known each other for 35 years — which is many lifetimes ago. When we met you and I were not successful. We both helped each other become whatever it is we are today.

“Can you not just leave it that?” he continued. “Must you persistently, year after year, decade after decade, blame me for everything…from the 2007 Solomon Islands tsunami to the dribble on your grandma’s chin?”

Marr responded with a brief tweet. “An ‘open letter’ hasn’t really been a thing since 1953,” he wrote. “It’s all ‘social media’ now. Even Donald J Trump had that one down. Also, this fake news business…a bit 2021 yeah ? #makingindiegreatagain.”

Had he elaborated, he would have probably explained that he never really wants to talk about Morrissey in interviews. It’s just that most everyone who interviews Marr brings up Morrissey at some point and asks him a direct question about the singer’s most recent scandalous public statement. Marr begrudgingly gives some sort of response, and it generates headlines. (We can tell you from personal experience, Marr would much rather speak about basically anything besides Morrissey when he’s being interviewed.)

“You found me inspirational enough to make music with me for six years,” Morrissey wrote midway through his missive. “If I was, as you claim, such an eyesore monster, where exactly did this leave you? Kidnapped? Mute? Chained? Abducted by cross-eyed extraterrestrials? It was YOU who played guitar on ‘Golden Lights’ — not me.”

That’s the only Smiths song that Morrissey calls out in his entire letter, and it’s a very odd one to highlight since it’s an obscure cover of a 1965 tune by English singer-songwriter Twinkle that originally appeared as a B side to “Ask.” Most hardcore Smiths fans consider it one of the worst tunes in their catalog. When Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield ranked all 73 Smiths songs, he placed “Golden Lights” at number 67.

“For reasons nobody has ever explained, ‘Golden Lights’ got enshrined on the Louder Than Bombs compilation, so it’s earned its legend as a song fans love to hate,” he wrote, “although you have to give it bonus points for turning into such a hilarious disaster.”

Morrissey could have called out Marr’s work on “How Soon Is Now?,” “The Queen Is Dead,” “Panic,” “This Charming Man,” or any number of brilliant songs they wrote together. But he went with “Golden Lights.” Check it out above to see if Smiths fans are correct to hate on it so much.

Oh, and for those few remaining Smiths fans that still think a reunion is possible at some point, read Morrissey’s complete letter again. This is not a man about to let bygones be bygones and sign a $100 million deal with Live Nation for a worldwide reunion tour. He doesn’t even want Johnny Marr to utter his name aloud. Sharing the stage with him and their old buddies Mike and Andy is an impossible dream that is never, ever happening.

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