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Cancel Culture: Is It Possible To Separate The Art, From The Artist?

Through the diverse changes in music from the past to the present, there is one stereotype that has stayed well-known within the industry- the outspoken, sometimes problematic, idol or frontman. The generations of Morrisseys, Kid Rocks, and Kanye Wests in the music industry have caused their fans to question the people behind their favorite songs, and If they’re worth supporting. This poses a difficult question-

Is it possible to listen to someone’s music while disapproving of them as a person?

Let’s take Morrissey’s case, for example.

I’m a huge fan of The Smiths, and fell in love with their music in middle school. However, when I learned of frontman Morrissey’s tendency to overstep the boundary of respect, I found myself conflicted. Should I really be listening to this man’s music? The ex-Smiths singer has been quoted as making questionable comments about everything from race to animal welfare. I felt cheated. The Smiths had been a significant part of the soundtrack to my early teen angst, and now I felt that that couldn’t be the same anymore. I questioned if listening to The Smiths would be enabling his behavior, and even wondered if I would be betraying my political stance by streaming their songs. However, with more thought, I decided I wouldn’t change my playlists.  And that leads to my answer to that difficult question. Can an artist be separated from their art?

In my opinion, yes. And no. The answer is not that simple. If you are to be a fan of the music, but not the musician, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you can justify their behavior and actions. If you acknowledge that this artist has made great music, but has not been a great person, it’s acceptable to still be a fan of the music itself.  Artists like Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, however, are difficult to separate from their music, as they used it to their advantage when committing alleged crimes.

In today’s society, this has become an even more important issue. The recent uprise in “cancel culture” has some fans boycotting artists and their music completely. Being an active twitter user, I was able to witness one of the latest battles over “canceling” an artist. This time, it targeted Matty Healy, singer of The 1975. In an interview with Brut Mexico. Healy explained that he “[thinks that] if you’re piously religious, if you’re dogmatically faithful, you should be kind of ashamed of yourself.” This isn’t the first of his comments that caused backlash, as he is often outspoken about religion. Extremely outspoken. Fans on twitter were quick to “cancel” Healy, but one topic continuously came up- the separation of artists from their music. Fans seemed to be divided as it is with fans of every “problematic” musician. There are times when it could be necessary, but the current rampant canceling of everyone who has ever said anything controversial blocks what is really needed in these situations- conversation. Giving people a chance to acknowledge or apologize for their mistakes could definitely cool down the harshness of the internet.

When thinking about my views on this topic, I wondered if there really was an answer to this issue. It seems to be a matter of personal morals and opinions. This proves much more complicated when music streaming and buying are brought into account. Funding artists who have committed harmful acts, such as R. Kelly, increases their platform and influence, which is what allows them to do these things in the first place. Even if the artist has just made disrespectful remarks, their listeners may be affected by feelings of immorality. I still feel a bit of guilt that I’m giving Morrissey profit and a platform every time I stream a song by The Smiths. “Cemetery Gates” might be worth it, though. That’s one good song. And that brings me to my true answer to this question. It’s often easy to ignore the artist and simply listen to the music, and it’s not impossible to love a song without loving the artist. And life is short. Listen to that song you like, but just don’t idolize the artist or justify their actions.

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