In the 21st century, it’s common to say that people live large portions of their lives online. Some go online for fun. Others do it for work.
Ascend Agency is working with Digital Music News to create opportunities for artists to be visible to the music industry.
People go online to seek all sorts of social and romantic relationships. For one reason or another, a swath of human activities have gone online, showing no sign of returning to the analog world exclusively.
Music artists have it differently than most, though. For them, the business model has changed so much that digital tools are an integral and essential part of the business. Artists can publish their music online on their own. They can promote it, engage fans, collaborate, and set up merchandise portals.
From a kernel of an idea for a song to checking the bank account to see if royalties to this song hopefully came in, artists can do all of that without leaving their bedroom. They just need a computer and an internet connection.
And no matter how liberating this new system can be — even though the financial rewards might be lacking — it still presents the artists with a minefield to walk through. One wrong move and one linchpin asset down, and the whole thing can fall apart. Unfortunately for Bia Khalifa, the darker side of the online business has been a reality for years.
Bia Khalifa is a hip-hop star currently based in Romania. This talented young woman became prominent online on platforms such as TikTok before eventually moving to Instagram and OnlyFans. Even though music wasn’t her focus for most of her career, she nonetheless finds it very important.
“I started making music three years ago. I was doing it for fun, as a hobby, not as a business,” she says. “But I write all the things I sing about, and they’re mostly something new and different. They are more extreme than what people here are used to seeing.”
Bia Khalifa’s presence in the Romanian media and the local digital sphere was divisive even before she started making music about topics that were considered taboo. Her media presence’s been marked by her openness about her life experiences, including her bisexuality and a complete disregard for the prevailing attitudes towards sex work.
Her presence eventually attracted the unwanted attention of hackers who, taking her as a target, successfully sabotaged her efforts, most notably by taking over her Instagram account.
“This happened to me, but also to other OnlyFans models,” Bia Khalifa explains. “If you’re gay, bisexual, or LGBTQ in Romania, they will close your account. You cannot be an influencer if you’re LGBTQ+ or if you support them. You cannot be an influencer. You cannot be a singer. You can be nothing.”
Bia Khalifa agrees that she has it better than some. She’s an established name in the Romanian cultural space, so she has at least her recognizability to work for her.
But on the other hand, the situation is dire because her whole online business model depends on reaching audiences and communicating with them on Instagram.
“My music also depends on Instagram because I get a lot of views on Instagram,” she explains. “I have a lot of artists who can see me, or tag me, or put the song on the story and tag me.”
Throughout the censorship bout and the online harassment that outspoken artists like her are subjected to, Bia Khalifa has been careful with taking the next step in her music career. Because she finances all her music projects independently, it might be difficult for her to commit to making more music while fighting the abuse affecting her ability to support herself.
“My work is 50% OnlyFans, 50% Instagram, and music is still a hobby,” she says. “Maybe I will think about it when I finally regain control over my Instagram.”
Bia Khalifa shares her problems with a community that might not be mainstream in Romania, but it sure isn’t negligible.
She cultivated a fanbase that knows how to approach the issues of misogyny and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric online, allowing for at least a small space where Bia Khalifa can say she’s safe.
Sadly, though, that space doesn’t extend too far. “Even in my music studio, people will make tasteless jokes,” she says. “And they’re not trying to hurt me. These are jokes among friends. But they’re still homophobic jokes.”
While her audience enjoys her hits, such as Uber, Puta Ama, and 3 2 1 Rec, Bia Khalifa thinks about changing direction and leaving Romania for Spain. But, whether the outspoken singer and model decides to do it or not, one thing’s for sure — she’ll continue to be a pioneering figure.