We stream their music, attend their concerts and hold them to an immortal standard. What they wear, the things they say and their subtlest actions are analyzed in extreme depth. To meet one’s idol would be a distinct honor to a fan. Artists are loved by their fans until they mess up of course. When we hear our favorite artist say or do something we don’t agree with, we’re ultimately left in a complex situation. Of course we still love the music they made, but it becomes a moral dilemma. Do we keep listening to the music we love? Is it right to? Should the problematic artist be “cancelled” from our lives?
“Cancelling” artists who have committed wrongdoings could never be a good thing. Several factors play into this. For one, we should consider that their mistakes are in the public eye, while ours aren’t. It is also important to learn to separate the art from the artist. In addition, when the mistake or wrongdoing is a legal matter, we should understand that it is the law’s responsibility to hold them accountable, not the fan’s.
Artists have millions of followers. Headlines about them spread on the news constantly. Even their late night food runs are photographed. Every slip up is caught and gossiped about by the rest of the world. If we were all observed to the same degree, the “skeletons in our closet,” would probably be revealed too. Take Justin Bieber for example. Back in January 2014 he was arrested for a DUI and drag racing. Nine days later a petition to deport him back to Canada had reached 100,000 signatures. Some of the signatures may have been as a joke, some may have been from serious distaste for what he had done. He was only 19 when this happened. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “teenagers drive intoxicated 2.4 million times each month.” The report also states that 1 in 5 of these drivers will get in fatal crashes. It’s common knowledge that driving under the influence can cause harm to others, yet these teens weren’t treated with the same severity as Bieber, despite doing the same thing and being the same age. Whether the petition was serious or not, it says something about people’s reactions to celebrities’ mistakes. Artists like Bieber make mistakes just like their fans, but theirs are deeply exaggerated and they shouldn’t be a victim of our “cancelled” culture because of that.
Separating the artist from the musical product they release is key. Music is a listening experience that transcends past a person’s personal feelings toward an artist. Many of the greatest artists of all time have done dark things, but the effect they had on our culture cannot be forgotten. Artists are oftentimes disassociated from their legacies with good reason because their personal life isn’t always relevant to their actual art. I can stare at a painting like “Bacchus” by Caravaggio all day and appreciate the genius of it. Knowing that Caravaggio was aggressive, ill-tempered and killed a man doesn’t affect my view of his painting, and it shouldn’t. It’s no different than someone like Kanye West today. West transformed hip hop’s mainstream music with his soulful samples and insightful raps. He may say and do things people don’t agree with, but you can’t deny his art. Consuming art is understanding the culture it influenced. In addition, some may argue that by listening to an artist’s song you’re making them wealthier and just increasing their influence. But in today’s modern world, streaming an artist’s music doesn’t make them wealthy. Spotify reports that they pay “about $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream to the holder of music rights. And the “holder” can be split among the record label, producers, artists and songwriters. In short, streaming is a volume game.” Listening to your favorite artist’s music doesn’t mean you’re supporting them economically, so why stop listening to them if you enjoy their art?
Lastly, who gave us the responsibility of holding artists accountable anyway? I know we all want to be junior detectives, but if the artist has done something criminal then we should count on the law. Just like we would let the police handle an ordinary citizen who’s committed a crime, the same should be done for artists. The FBI reports a violent crime occurs every 25 seconds. We hear statistics like this every day and go on with our days with little to no reaction. But if Bieber drives home drunk, the reaction is that he should be deported and “cancelled.” Just because their lives are in the public eye, and we are their consumers, doesn’t mean we should be the ones to hold them accountable.
It may be time to cancel “cancelled culture.” Showing sympathy and understanding that your favorite idol is only human will ease the burden for you. Artists oftentimes make the same mistakes we do and should be dealt with in the same manner an average person would be. So don’t stop listening to your favorite songs just because the person who made it is morally questionable. We’re smart listeners who can analyze what we see, not palpitating irrational sensors.