Separating art from the artist: an impossible feat


Oliver Litner-Staff Writer, Nadia Grauman-Creative Director

“Nobody’s perfect” is a mantra taught to everyone at a young age and reinforced throughout life. Artists, just like everyone else, fall under this umbrella. Many musicians, including R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, have been accused of serious crimes like sexual misconduct and domestic violence. With these artists’ misbehavior in the public eye, an important question has been raised: can a listener appreciate music without showing support for its creator? The answer, simply put, is no. This separation strips music of its true emotion and indirectly endorses the artist while also demeriting the severity of the artist’s crime.
In 2005, thousands of indie kids sang along to Ryan Adams’s famous song “When Will You Come Back Home,” belting the famous line, “I’m not gonna break, but if I do, I’m gonna shatter like the glass I turned your heart into.” Though Adams was an indie legend for good reason, this line is now associated with his horrendous treatment of women throughout his life. The line can never be appreciated the same way, obliterating the relatability of Adams’s work. Ann artist’s choices can destroy the emotional impact of their work.
Another problematic artist is Jahseh Onfroy, more commonly known as XXXTentacion. Onfroy was shot in Florida in 2018, and shortly after, secret footage surfaced in which he confessed to numerous crimes including domestic abuse and the stabbing of nine people, though he denied these accusations during his lifetime. When listeners play one of XXXTentacion’s songs, they are approving of him and his terrible actions. “Ignoring the artist” so a listener can enjoy the familiar tunes does nothing but help the artist’s revenue stream and validate their choices, thus encouraging behavior like Onfroy’s.
Lastly, Michael Jackson, the king of pop, continues to hold his spot as the 70th most listened to artist on Spotify as of Feb. 21, 2019. He was a groundbreaking artist, and an icon who shaped pop culture. However, the new documentary “Leaving Neverland” has shone a spotlight onto his accusations of child molestation from over 26 years ago. According to the documentary, Jackson completely took advantage of young boys, inflicting endless trauma. While no one can deny Jackson’s musical brilliance, no listener can overlook these alleged crimes. By continuing to praise this artist, listeners are not only justifying Jackson and his disgusting actions, but also discrediting the victims who suffered as a result of his disgusting actions.
While some may believe that art can be separated from the artist, regardless of that artist’s character, all of these monsters should be boycotted by industry professionals, fans and live music organizers alike Though music is an incredible media of expression that brings people together and provides listeners with hope, it can also support the efforts of dangerous, criminal musicians. If a musician’s actions violate basic human rights, the listeners only moral option is to boycott that artist, because separating art from the artist is impossible.