In the 2010 comedy film Get Him To The Greek, an early rant from Sean “Diddy” Combs perfectly sums up one of the biggest problems in the music industry. In light of the recent deaths of rappers like Lil Peep and Mac Miller, the scene, which makes light of drug addiction and substance abuse in the music business, becomes a dark and cautionary indictment of not just the labels and business partners who enable drug dependent artists, but also of the fans who clamor for artists’ darkest moments.
Diddy, in character as music mogul Sergio Roma — basically, a surreally heightened, (even more) outrageous version of Diddy himself — tasks Aaron Green (portrayed by Jonah Hill) with safely escorting British rock star Aldous Snow (played with charmingly unhinged abandon by Russell Brand) from his home in London to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for a comeback show aimed at redeeming the rockstar of his disastrous last album. Sergio explains that Aaron will have to keep Aldous, who has recently fallen off the wagon after seven years of sobriety, perfectly balanced between his sober and inebriated states, as this is the only way he will be considered entertaining for the waiting fans.
“He’s a drug addict, Aaron,” Sergio explains. “You have to show him balance. People wanna see him fucked up, but they don’t wanna see him too fucked up. If this is fucked up and this is sober… Right here. That’s the perfect balance, right there.”
It’s played for laughs in the film, but the heart of what Diddy-as-Sergio is saying cuts through to one of the recording industry’s darkest, worst-kept secrets. In a business where manipulation and exploitation are considered best practices, unfortunately, we are all complicit in this system that chews up and spits out real people. Lonely and damaged artists like Amy Winehouse, Lil Peep, Fredo Santana, and Mac Miller need help kicking their habits, but are instead left to muddle through on their own when someone — label owners, fans, family, friends, musical peers, hell, everyone must step in.
I don’t know Mac Miller’s situation specifically, but I’ve watched enough artists suffer from addiction in my lifetime to see that the cycle plays out similarly enough. Time and time again, from Prince to Michael Jackson, from Amy Winehouse to Whitney Houston, from Lil Peep to Mac Miller, we see family, friends, label executives, managers, and others timidly admit that they “wish they’d done more.” They “wish they’d seen the signs” in time to step in.
In truth, however, We all see the signs and instead of empathy and concern, they are met with condescending derision and jokes. When Kanye West was in the middle of a pill-influenced spiral, how many of the articles and how much of the online commentary was filled with lurid speculation? A lot of it — some might even say the majority. Kanye himself turned addiction into a punchline during the run-up to his massive GOOD Music summer release schedule, famously paying thousands of dollars for the rights to use a photo of Whitney Houston’s drug-riddled bathroom counter as the cover art for Pusha T’s Daytona.