[Trigger warning: this editorial details allegations of sexual abuse and violence.]
Music has the power to bring us together, but recently, one argument has been tearing people apart: can you separate the art from the artist?
Over the past few years, media sources have outed many well-known artists as alleged sexual abusers and predators. And yet, many of these artists continue to work, unhindered by these revelations.
R. Kelly is a prime example of a star who continues to receive accolades – and money – even after charges of sexually abusing women and underaged girls, and dropped charges of making child pornography, have come to light.
But people are still buying and streaming his music, claiming that, in order to truly appreciate art, we must separate the art from the artist. Devoted fans even attempted to crowdfund his bail money.
Cases of artists like R. Kelly abusing their power of celebrity to molest and silence young people are not unique. Michael Jackson was accused of molesting several young boys during his career. And yet, he is still acknowledged as a musical icon.
A Halloween does not pass without “Thriller” being blasted on every major radio station.
Many argue that these abusers’ music have had a great impact on the history and evolution of various genres, so they can’t just be written off.
But by acknowledging their impact without acknowledging their crimes – to separate the art from the artist – you’re perpetuating the notion that one’s talent and notoriety invalidates one’s immorality.
When we allow artists to become icons and celebrities, we give people implicit and explicit consent to emulate those figures. Artists’ songs are more than just a collection of beats – their trace is in the lyrics and the album art and the persona. The artist informs the art, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not.
These credible allegations of sexual abuse are so abhorrent that they should outweigh any value the accused’s art’ supposedly provides. And if you need someone to explain why these crimes are so horrendous, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your own sense of empathy and morality.
As listeners we have the capacity – and the responsibility – to show accused artists, and their victims, where we stand when it comes to the horrific abuse that have been systematically minimized and ignored.
Listeners should hold themselves personally responsible for not supporting abusive musicians on any platform.
When you download an R. Kelly song, you are essentially handing him a dollar and telling him to go off and continue to take advantage of young girls in his mansion.
As consumers, we vote with our dollar. We can refuse to support an artist’s work on any platform where they receive royalties, and refuse to support their behaviors, both monetarily and ideologically.
As allegations surfaced about R. Kelly, Spotify temporarily removed his songs from the streaming service.
But before we let Spotify or Apple Music make the decision for us – or fail to – let’s instead tell these streaming platforms that their continued support of the artist is unwanted and will not bring them financial gains.
We should hold the streaming services, producers, and distributors of the music we listen to to a higher standard.
And we should hold ourselves as a listener to that same standard. When you buy or listen to the abusers’ music, you are complicit in a culture that chooses to ignore the reality of that abuse in favor of the facade of their musical persona.
The answer is clear – we cannot separate the art from the artists.