I have always hated country music, although I admit it, I never really gave it a chance. But last year I found myself making an exception for Morgan Wallen when I heard his song “7 Summers”. Since then, I have listened to the majority of his songs and even watched YouTube videos of him competing on “The Voice”.
However, before I could truly consider myself a fan, around February of last year, a video of a drunken Wallen and his friends surfaced, in which he can clearly be heard shouting the n-word. Wallen is a white male, which clearly makes him problematic. In the months that followed, Wallen continued to tour and work on music, but his career-changing scandal marked the end of my country music phase.
The other day, I was mixing up my favorite songs on Spotify while driving in my hometown when “7 Summers” came out, and without even thinking about it, I listened to the song in its entirety. I couldn’t help but feel guilty after the fact, because even after everything he’s done, I can’t help but love this song. Naturally, I wondered if it made sense to associate his racist actions with his music.
This whole situation boils down to one question: can we separate art from artist? By that I mean, to what extent is music – or any art form – a reflection of the negative actions of the singer or artist to whom it is attributed?
Can I still listen to Michael Jackson, despite accusations of pedophilia? Is it wrong to reread the “Harry Potter” series following author JK Rowling’s transphobic posts on Twitter? What about David Dobrik, whose YouTube videos had dominated the internet until he was hooked up to a sexual assault that took place behind the scenes while filming one of his videos?
There is no yes or no answer to this question. The art you consume – whether it’s movies, TV shows, or music – is your own decision. Even though I find it hard to listen to music from singers whose actions I condemn, I find it unfair to impose these expectations on everyone.
On the one hand, I see the cancellation of culture as a toxic phenomenon that only promotes shame and hatred. The faceless power of the internet holds people to account on a whole new level of intimidation and ostracization. But the point is, not everyone is canceled in the same way, and some celebrities seem to be immune to it. Take rapper YNW Melly for example, whose song “Murder On My Mind” only became more successful after the rapper was tried for murder.
If we don’t demand that every artist meet the same standards, do we have the power to tell people which ones are canceled and what music they can no longer listen to?
In contrast, there remains the argument that by streaming her song you are essentially paying them, so why would we choose to pay people who did something so wrong? But here’s my counter to explain why that isn’t necessarily the case.
Try to think of singers as a business. Sure, they’re the face of the brand, but there are hundreds of other people enjoying their songs, whether it’s the managers, production teams, or even the cashiers at their concert merchandise stands. If any of Apple’s board members turned out to have made sexist comments, would you realistically stop using your iPhone? If the CEO of Nissan was involved in a fraud lawsuit, would you sell your car and buy a new one?
You won’t find me listening to artists that I find racist, sexist, or problematic in any way. But separating art from artist is an inherently personal decision. It’s up to you to determine what you think is right or wrong. But if you choose to consume art created by problematic people, make sure you recognize what they’ve done wrong. The last thing we have to do is idolize people we shouldn’t be.