We find ourselves discovering, yet again, unforgivable qualities about our favorite artists. The age old question reappears: Can you support the art and not the artist?
In response to the recent controversy with U.K. singer Alexander O’Connor, also known as Rex Orange County, and the ongoing hateful messages from American rapper Kanye West, we must make the difficult decision to condemn artists for their actions.
O’Connor was recently charged with six counts of sexual assault, and the internet has not taken this lightly. To watch this bedroom pop sensation sink under so quickly has had a devastating reaction, as some fans have even taken to heart getting rid of his merchandise.
West has received intense backlash from his recent antisemitic tweets and his appearance in Paris Fashion Week with Candace Owens, known for her conservative commentary, in shirts that read “White Lives Matter.”
It should not be difficult to condemn these actions, but status muddies the water and we experience a cognitive dissonance that makes condemnation difficult at times.
Artists like West have made monumental progress in music, employing signature styles that have made the music industry exponentially more innovative and creative than ever before.
West’s most notable contribution to hip-hop is his unique ability to make impressively innovative arrangements with uncommon instrumentation – for example sampling other songs or using live instruments.
However, should you ignore the harmful actions of your favorite artists just because they’ve contributed something impressive and almost necessary to the development of our society? This is not an easy question — it seems like every genre has its own problematic faves.
In classical music there’s the famous composer of “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre – also known from this Looney Tunes clip — Richard Wagner, known for publicly denouncing Judaism in music and Jewish musicians. Despite this, we still see his influence today as he is hailed as one of the greatest composers in the classical music canon, bleeding into the lives of the average layperson.
West has and will continue to have power over pop culture. Whether we like it or not — he has been an essential component in the evolution of rap and popular music but most recently has had a more negative influence.
Because West and his music have inspired so many people, we will probably never escape his influence. But to prevent him from further influencing us, social media outlets have taken it upon themselves to restrict his accounts on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
There are other artists who behave similarly in this ecosystem of social media like Azealia Banks, known for controversial and harmful messages across Instagram and Twitter — if you know you know.
Banks has publicly said a plethora of offensive and unforgivable statements and usually, they’re personal. In 2020, her Twitter account was suspended after she made hateful comments toward members of the transgender community. Her account has been suspended on multiple, separate occasions. Yet, she still holds substantial power in the culture of social media and people still follow her, absolving Banks from this hate.
I understand how difficult it might be to let a comfort artist go. O’Connor had no real public history of harmful or dangerous behaviors, which makes it especially difficult. He was praised as a sweet boy who poured his heart out into songs like “Pluto Projector.” Why would you ever let him go?
This is a rather interesting idea: how one song can mean so much to you and then in just a tweet, the entire discography of an artist is tarnished. Can we return to the feeling that resonated with us initially?
I think we can. It’s possible to still enjoy or grieve the memories that connect you to this music. But you should feel encouraged to find other artists who do the same thing, if not better. And try to look in new places. Spotify Radio is a great resource but NPR Music and Pitchfork are even better. They share weekly new music Friday announcements I recommend paying attention to because not everything can come from your BROCKHAMPTON obsession from years past. I give you permission to listen to other music. I promise, it won’t hurt.