Is It Okay To Listen To A Problematic Artist?

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

CW: Abuse, rape

We’ve all been there: whether it be from a random video popping up on YouTube sidebar or your streaming service of choice suggesting a song due to your recent listens, an artist who you were seemingly unaware of appears and like magic, you’re under their spell. After listening to their music for a few days, already compiling a list of your favourite songs and albums, you decide to get to know the band or singer in question by having a quick google search. All of a sudden, a bombardment of “X is a problematic fave” articles and “#XISCancelledParty” tweets flood your screen, a total pit in your stomach forming as someone whose art your enjoyed shows their true colours.

A situation like this isn’t rare. In fact, it’s more often than not that nowadays a band you enjoy will be outed for a view or action that many deem as “problematic” – actually, before we dive into the nitty gritty, let’s properly define what I mean by that term. For someone to be described as problematic, it means that they have been accused of some form of prejudice or bigotry, whether it be something they said or did. The term can still be somewhat vague as those who have abused someone, whether that be mentally, physically etc, or have committed other horrible acts tend to be described as abusers, rather than just problematic. Regardless, both of these groups will be used when discussing whether or not it’s ever okay to enjoy a form of entertainment, even if the person behind its creation is a bad person.

Image result for john lennon

To clarify this, it’s necessary to show some examples of musicians who fit this mould. Calling out artists that fit this description has never been something I’ve shied away from, my most infamous piece titled 5 Reasons Why John Lennon Was A Terrible Person got me a lot of hate, and I certainly won’t do so now. One of my favourite artists, and someone who is constantly regarded as one of the greatest musicians of all time, is David Bowie and with a career spanning numerous decades, it’s no surprise that he has been accused of some serious allegations. The most notable one has to do with Lori Mattix who Bowie had consensual sex with during the 70’s – the problem people have with this is due to Mattix’s age at the time as she was 15, Bowie being in his 20’s. A lot of features regarding this have popped up following Bowie’s death, something that I’m not against but ones that come off as condescending to say the least, MIC especially who said:

“To this day, Mattix claims that her decision to lose her virginity to the pop icon was ‘consensual,’ Mattix told Thrillist. While Mattix is entitled to believe this, the age of consent would have made the alleged sexual encounter illegal.”

There are plenty more accusations relating to Bowie that we could talk about for another five paragraphs but the point is that I’m by no means criticising those who have listened to a problematic artist. It’s something we’re all guilty of and it’s not just exclusive to the realm of music. There are plenty of talented directors and actors who have questionable views or have committed some horrible acts (Woody Allen and Roman Palinski anyone?) but the one example I’ll use is Victor Salva who directed Jeepers Creepers and its sequel Jeepers Creepers 2. While his movies stand on their own merit, Salva is most infamous for his conviction in 1988 for charges relating to his sexual molestation of a 12-year-old actor who was starring in one of his films, videotaping himself in the act of doing so, and possessing commercial videotapes and magazines containing child pornography. Yup, a downright horrible human who can rot in hell for all I care.

Image result for tyler the creator

Defining and giving examples is good and all but that’s not what we’re here for. You want to know if you should be able to listen to music by people who are pieces of shit and I’m here to tell you the answer which is…maybe.

The one argument you’ll have heard countless times when discussing this topic is to “separate the art from the artist” and in all honesty, this has some ground to stand on depending on the artist. Some music, for example, can be deemed problematic no matter the context, most notably Tyler The Creator who has been called all the names under the sun: homophobic (not anymore), sexist, rape apologist, the list goes on. While Tyler should be criticised for his earlier music, where most of these allegations are coming from, it has to be emphasised that Tyler plays a character in those albums, a horribly unstable person that on Goblin he states “isn’t a fucking role model”. This doesn’t excuse the insensitive shock humour which is lazy and shallow but it’s important to remember that these are things said from a fictional representation rather than the artist himself.

Image result for moose blood problematic

Most of the time though, this excuse doesn’t cut it. The topic of misogyny in the alt scene is something we’ve covered extensively already and for most artists that are called problematic, it tends to be something to do with this rather than their music being taken out of context. Bands like Moose Blood and Neck Deep are just a few bands who have been found doing this and it has lead to an outcry by groups like Defend Girls, Not Pop Punk and others for allowing bands like this to continue to have a career.

In addition to this, the controversy regarding PWR BTTM after the sexual abuse claims came to light and their subsequent dropping by their label had added fuel to the fire: no one is excusing these acts but why is it a progressive band have faced this punishment yet other bands are allowed to have a flourishing career? This is where the main argument for not listening to problematic artists comes in, that it excuses these vile acts and allows them to continue their careers. Not only that but it sets a horrible precedent for their fans and other musicians who are led to believe that there are no repercussions for their actions. 

So, should you be allowed listen to problematic artists? Yes and no. If an artist’s music is something you genuinely enjoy then no one can stop you in that regard but by listening to their music via streaming services or by buying the music, you’re somewhat supporting the band and therefore supporting their actions, making pirating really the only way to listen to artists of this nature without putting money into their pockets. While some music is problematic due to its content, that is often brought out of context, artists that have said or committed terrible things are ones who don’t deserve your support: it’s why we don’t cover the music of those that do so on this site and never will.

At the end of the day, it’s a conscious decision that no one can censor, but one that definitely has an impact. Much like how your vote in an election is your say, so to is your listen: make sure you use it wisely.


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4 thoughts on “Is It Okay To Listen To A Problematic Artist?

  1. It seems you deleted my former response, so I will repeat myself: You have chosen a topic of interest for everyone in our digital community, however I feel that your heart is not in it – you spend four fifths of the article leading up to the topic you promised to cover, citing examples and patting yourself on the back for articles you have written artists’ problematics before, yet you fail to deliver an article after the drawn-out introduction has passed. Losing yourself in platitudes your answer to the question whether one should “listen to a problematic artist” is: Yes, so long as you pirate the music. Seriously? Do you think that monetary support is the only support that influences an artist’s reach? Do you think cultural capital and economic capital are interchangeable? If so, do you not see how even listening to an artist necessarily furthers their cultural reach and in turn their economic capital, since your listening to an artist possibly will motivate others to buy their music? Your critique (if it can even be called that) is superficial at best and I don’t think you take your role as a journalist seriously. In fact, this whole article seems like something you sh*t out to cash in on the recent news of Tyler The Creator coming out as queer and the question whether his musical oeuvre shouldbe re-evaluated.
    Don’t dare delete my comment again, I expect an answer from you!

    Like

    1. Not deleted, your comment got flagged as spam due to your use of the word cuck, sorry! Firstly, I feel like I answered the question pretty aptly, exploring both sides of the coin though I will admit to keep it exclusively to the financial side as opposed to the cultural elements was a point I missed out. “Cash in on the Tyler The Creator” bit makes no sense as I’ve already shared my thoughts on this bit of journalism repeatedly both on my site as well as my social media. I can’t see how listening to an artist, if I’ve pirated the music and not discussed the music with anyone, can further their reach at all, it’s only when you start to talk about it with others that you end up shooting yourself in the foot. My answer to the question wasn’t simply a yes, actually let me quote myself:

      So, should you be allowed listen to problematic artists? Yes and no. If an artist’s music is something you genuinely enjoy then no one can stop you in that regard but by listening to their music via streaming services or by buying the music, you’re somewhat supporting the band and therefore supporting their actions.

      It’s a morally grey area and I’m no gatekeeper, I’m just someone that loves music and wanted to explore a topic that genuinely interests me.

      Like

    2. Just so you know, I do appreciate the criticism. I want to be the best journalist I can possibly be so thank you for the feedback. Even if it bordered on rude at points, I get where you’re coming from.

      Like

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