How Did #BlackOutTuesday Go So Wrong So Fast?

Kehlani and Lil Nas X were among the first to point out its flaws. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Shutterstock

Clearly, the internet is still working on this whole activism thing. On Monday, #TheShowMustBePaused was proposed as a day (June 2) for people in the music industry to recharge, put pressure on labels, and disseminate info but has since been largely co-opted into a celebrity tag chain, making it so that the people with enough resources and fame to create real change in the industry are just … logged off. Instead of posting useful content or publicly donating, celebrities and influencers are now posting a black square “in solidarity” with the black community. It even reached celebrities who aren’t in the music industry, like Katie Holmes, twisting a movement intended to amplify black voices into performative and potentially harmful allyship. But just as soon as #BlackOutTuesday took off, several celebrities, including Kehlani and Lil Nas X, spoke out about its flaws. To find out how to actually support the original cause and, yes, get the drama of what happened to #BlackOutTuesday, read on.

How did #BlackOutTuesday start?

The idea of taking a pause on Tuesday, June 2, began with two black women in the music industry, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, as #TheShowMustBePaused on Instagram. “Our mission is to hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the effort, struggles and successes of Black people accountable,” they wrote in the event’s mission statement.” So they asked people to “take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.” And while that says nothing about logging off of social media, they do encourage those “impacted by the recent events” to take a break, in general, today. On their website, they boost petitions, funds, anti-racism resources, and more ways to get involved today. #TheShowMustBePaused didn’t involve a black square or a social-media declaration or any of these white people. It doesn’t even call on Black Lives Matter or suggest use of the hashtag.

How did #BlackOutTuesday become so popular?

Billie Eilish, the Rolling Stones, Quincy Jones, and more began to share #TheShowMustBePaused, per The Guardian. But as the plan spread, reposts of the events got distorted into a more general #BlackOutTuesday, one that not only included other industries but also other races. New rules for allies started going around Twitter, unconnected to #TheShowMustBePaused.

Celebrities, corporations, and more began to go dark on social media Monday night, with some explaining their reasoning and others just posting a blank black square, like they’re promoting Fyre Festival. Few got it right. Sony Music, Columbia Records, and Boohoo merely posted that they’re using the day to reflect or take a stand. Kylie Jenner, Drake, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tom Holland, King Princess, and Charli XCX, among many, many others, all posted vague black squares. Rihanna shut down all of her and her businesses’ social-media accounts, also dropping a cheeky black square on the feed before peacing out to whatever oasis she’s quarantining in. And, of course, as more and more celebrities and influencers caught on, so did their followers, now equipped with even less information — just a black square to screenshot and repost. With nothing to go off of, black posts began to flood the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Instagram, pushing down any helpful information and suppressing images of protests.

Who has criticized #BlackOutTuesday?

Several musicians started to grow wary of #BlackOutTuesday into Tuesday morning. “This is the 4th completely different flyer I’ve seen for it,” singer Kehlani tweeted late Monday night. “This is the only one without the saying go completely silent for a day in solidarity. The messages are mixed across the board and I really hope it doesn’t have a negative effect.” Lil Nas X saw a screenshot of all the black posts under the Black Lives Matter hashtag and tweeted “this is not helping us. bro who the hell thought of this?? ppl need to see what’s going on.” The band Unknown Mortal Orchestra suggested donating all funds instead of going dark. Jack Antonoff, no comment on his close collaborator Lana Del Rey, applied pressure to the music industry and shouted out #TheShowMustBePaused organizers. “What i’m also interested in is more immediate and clear aid from the $$$$$$ at the top to groups who need it now,” he tweeted. “Would mean a lot to see large donations from our big corporations in music.” Meanwhile, more and more activists attempted to remove and divert all the black posts away from #BlackLivesMatter and over to #BlackOutTuesday.

What are businesses actually doing for #BlackOutTuesday?

Oh, you mean besides “reflecting?” Several companies have gone further than the black post to actually redirect attention right now. Complex is exclusively publishing Black Lives Matter content, Spotify added an eight-minute, 36-second moment of silence to all playlists in honor of George Floyd, Interscope isn’t releasing any new music for the rest of the week, Live Nation is canceling events and closing offices, radio shows have gone silent, and MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, and other ViacomCBS-owned channels are going dark. While celebrities and influencers struggle to get it right, you can still participate in #TheShowMustBePaused and #BlackOutTuesday by spreading petitions, learning more about your local government, and boosting funds both for victims of police brutality and protestor bail. You don’t need a platform — you just need a voice.

How Did #BlackOutTuesday Go So Wrong So Fast?