"As detailed here, AllMusic is no longer displaying info about Bryan Adams or his earlier band, Sweeney Todd, per the artist’s request."
- AMG's representatives in 2013, asked about missing content on their website
In August, 2013, in a case unprecedented when it comes to a major recording artist, Canadian singer/songwriter Bryan Adams made the popular music site, allmusic.com, remove all content related to Adams' work. This included biographical data, reviews, ratings, pictures and discography. Users of the site would soon notice that a search for Bryan Adams (or any of his recordings) on AllMusic would produce no results, except for some tribute and Karaoke albums.
I personally consider this, even if it sounds a tad hyperbolic, an assault on music journalism, as well as freedom of the press and freedom of speech in general, which makes me wonder why this incident has remained somewhat under the radar. I struggled to find any references to it on non-music related websites. And even what I found was predominantly discussion and speculation, rather than proper news articles. Accordingly, what I write here is somewhat ill-researched, but the basic fact that all data on Adams has been deleted is unquestionable as it is baffling.
What Does It Mean?
The implications of this case are blurry, at least if you look at the basic situation - we don't even know why Adams requested his data to be removed. Neither do we know how his lawyers managed to succeed without any sign of protest from the website owners. This is most probably also why there wasn't much outrage on the web about this, since the public only knew anything was even going on after the fact. I must also admit I'm a complete layman when it comes to law, so from this angle I can't provide much of an insight.
However, if we look at the incident from a different perspective, the case becomes somewhat more clear-cut. The question that may help us here is: Were the deleted reviews in any way different from other music reviews, were they overtly harsh, or did they attack Adams on a personal level? If the answer was "yes", the deletion could be justified somehow, because the content would violate Adams' individual rights.
Yet the point is, the deleted material does in no way differ from other reviews posted on AMG, on other music sites, or in the music press in general. I'm a huge music fanatic and I've probably read through tens of thousands of reviews over the years, and I couldn't see anything extraordinary about AMG's treatment of Adams' work. To be quite frank, I was surprised at the praise some of his works received there.
What's the Matter? A Glance at the Deleted Reviews
Since all content on Bryan Adams (rather than just a review or a part of the biography) was taken down from the website, I assume that Adams took offense in several of the reviews. With help of the wayback machine, I've browsed through old versions of allmusic, looking for the bits that might have provoked such extreme reaction.
What becomes obvious quickly is that AMG did not slag off Bryan Adam's entire catalog (see appendix) - the first few albums actually received positive reviews. His mid-80's releases, with 4.5 out of 5 stars each, even get close to the top rating. AMG critic Eduardo Rivadavia goes as far as calling the A-side of Cuts Like a Knife "simply perfect," in the same review mentioning Adams would achieve "chart-topping perfection" with the follow-up, Reckless. Yet, starting with 1987's Into the Fire, the tone gets much more critical. But even then, it's nothing overtly negative or partial. For example, referring to the songwriting collaboration with Jim Vallance, Rivadavia states:
Most of the duo's songs for 1987's Into the Fire were lifeless and dull, and the album yielded only one successful single in "Heat of the Night." The arena rock of "Hearts on Fire" injects it with at least a little spark, but things quickly get ugly with the depressing title track and the truly awful "Only the Strong Survive."
The reviewer here is the same as for the previous two albums, thus it would seem implausible to call him predisposed against Adams or his music. The above is the most negative part of the review, and even here he balances his view by mentioning the successful single and a standout track. This excerpt is just one example, of course. Further AMG reviews generally claim that Adams did nothing new after the 1980s and that his more recent albums sounded simply like rehashes of his old style. But, again, this is not an unusual claim at all if a music journalist tries to look at a longer career, it's one of the most common criticisms in the field.
This brings us back to the implications. If the deleted material is similar and indeed in no way extraordinary compared to other music reviews on the web, doesn't that set a precedent? Doesn't this mean that anyone in the industry with sufficient legal support could simply request deletion of unfavorable reviews at will? Doesn't that mean that any content may be removed at the request of any artist? This seems like a decisive step towards the erosion of music journalism. That's why I consider this case to be so significant.
Appendix: Bryan Adams studio albums and AMG's ratings at the time of deletion
1980 Bryan Adams - 2.5 Stars
1981 You Want It, You Got It - 3.5 Stars
1983 Cuts Like a Knife - 4.5 Stars
1984 Reckless - 4.5 Stars
1987 Into the Fire - 2 Stars
1991 Waking Up the Neighbours - 3 Stars
1996 18 Til I Die - 2 Stars
1998 On a Day Like Today - 3 Stars
2002 Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Soundtrack - 3 Stars
2004 11 - 2 Stars
2010 Bare Bones - 4 Stars