The idea of separating the art from the artist is a controversial idea not only across music but across the arts in general. Often people use it in order to justify liking or consuming certain media made by problematic figures. Classic examples include Salvador Dali, a well known facist and domestic abuser, and more recently Michael Jackson, who remains a popular music artist despite the allegations thrown towards him.
Of course there are instances when it can be fair to separate the art from the creator. While writing this article I acknowledge that this is a controversial topic and as such I do not wish to attempt to answer any ethical questions, however there are certain figures who can be seen as a product of their time, and the context behind the music is often important. While hip hop music can be rife with misogyny and homophobia, artists such as Eminem or Big L spring to mind, a lot of these artists had to deal with other forms of oppression, particularly racial oppression. Moreover, particularly in the work of Eminem, a lot of the more violent and disturbing lyrics are used only for shock value.
However, it is easy to see why many are offended and hurt by a lot of the lyrics in these songs and there have been problems where many in the music industry commit atrocious actions and suffer very little consequences in terms of loosing support. Examples include Michael Jackson, who has had numerous allegations thrown his way and yet remains one of the most popular music artists globally. Of course Jackson is dead, and thus by listening to his music you are in a sense not really supporting him, however by supporting an artist that has allegedly committed such actions one does set a dangerous precedent, where potentially other artists believe they can get away with the same thing without consequence.
Of course this whole debate ties into cancel culture, yet another controversial topic. Saying that, there are of course many artists who deserve to be cancelled. However often it seems music artists, and people in general, can be permanently ‘cancelled’ for a small action or a controversial lyric, which in reality often has little effect on anything, the perpetrator will carry on believing what they already did was ok whether they are cancelled or not. Another issue is that when people are cancelled for small issues, the issue is often either forgotten about in a week, Slowthai’s NME controversy being an example, which then undermines more serious issues which get far less attention in the media/twittersphere.
Of course there are situations where one can separate the art from the artist, and ones where one cannot, as previously said my intention with this article was not to try and answer any of these controversial topics but simply to explore them. Where the boundary is drawn is for the consumer themselves to decide and everyone has different opinions on what qualifies as cancellable or not. However one must be careful when trying to separate the art from the artist because there are many musicians and creatives in general that have either been accused of or have openly committed terrible actions and suffer little in consequence, maintaining a large fanbase, and this can set a dangerous precedent for future generations of creatives, who then believe that they can commit such actions and get away with it too.