It seems like every day, we hear about a new sex scandal, a new case of abuse, a new case of racism, or someone just abusing their power. Unfortunately, it’s celebrities, activists, politicians, and those who have major platforms that commit some of the most heinous crimes. In an age of social media and accessible information, it’s easier to hold people accountable for their actions and find out the truth and the secrets that might have been hidden for years. While some will step up and call out someone for their actions, and discontinue supporting them, others are a little more hesitant than others. Some people are on the opposing side; they either don’t mind a person’s problematic actions and say “what they do is their business I just like their music”. Others go to the extent of defending them saying that people are using controversy to destroy a person’s career or reputation. Also, how can we forget the consistent comparisons between male and female offenders of the same crime and the comparisons between white and black offenders of the same crime? Ultimately this leads to debates and discussions on a topic that has been discussed for years but is finally being brought to light.
Can we look at an entertainer and separate their art from their personal life?
It’s easy to say yes or no, but when we get down to the actions and the cause of the actions, you will start to see a divide in which what we can and cannot accept. No one’s perfect, of course, but what happens when your actions affect other people? Will we, supporters of any art, be as vocal if their actions only affect themselves? This is what we should consider when we’re discussing the separatism from art and personal life. When it comes to issues like this, we tend to be in our feelings and not look with an open eye. We tend to get selective hearing and vision when we don’t want to acknowledge the truth.
When we talk about an artist and their actions, we have to first determine whether their actions are affecting themselves or other people. Of course, we must always check on someone’s mental state of mind, but how they maneuver through their problems is how they determine what type of help they need, but how they should be treated in general. Take artists like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and so on. They had their turmoils and addiction problems, but they never did anything problematic. Most of the negative press they received was on their personal problems, not the abuse they put someone through. It’s easy for people to separate the artistry from the artist when it comes to people like Whitney, Amy, and even some more recent artists like Lana Del Rey and Bruno Mars because what they did only affect them. They had troubles we can relate to and they put that into their music, which also made us connect to their music more. That also goes into an art form; dance, painting, filmmaking, etc.
Now any artists can put their emotions and feelings into music, but how can we support and relate when they’re doing something problematic and discriminatory? It’s hard for most music fans to listen to and support someone who discriminates someone due to race, gender, age, and disabilities. It’s also hard for someone to support an artist who promotes or has committed violence towards women and LGBTQIA community members. When we have discussions about separating art from artists, it turns into a tricky topic because when an artist has done something that’s verbally or physically triggering, there’s a fan who has experienced that, and that artist will most likely not be seen in the same light anymore. The defenders of these artists don’t make it any easier; while I do believe everyone’s entitled to their opinion and have the right to love any and every artist to their desire, at some point we can’t defend someone and make excuses for them just because we love their art. There’s a difference between being a fan and being an apologist and not holding someone accountable.
With that being said, it’s hard for people to support R. Kelly when his music caters to women yet he sexual harassed young girls and, according to a recent interview with TVOne’s Sister Circle, has emotionally and physically abused his ex-wife. It’s hard for people to support Chris Brown when he has, and continuously, abuse women mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s hard for people to support so many rappers who never speak highly of black women, yet somehow still expect black women to be in their music videos.
Can we separate the artist from their art? Honestly, after taking a few days to reflect on this, and after reflecting on the backlash XXXtencion has gotten after his tragic passing, I can say, no. No, can not separate the artist from their art. As an artist myself, I can say, apart from selling your art is selling yourself. When people buy your art, they’re investing in you, and people can’t invest in something they can’t get a return on. What a person does determines the accountability that needs to be held. If a fan can overlook abuse and misogyny what does that really say about them? In the wake of XXXTentacion’s death and as the conversation continues, I hope that people learn that your legacy is all you have. Be careful of what you say and do; what’s done in the dark comes to light. The elevator door eventually opens.