Opinions

Can we separate the art from the artist?

Ye’s comments may be racist, but that doesn’t mean his music is

Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, is widely regarded as one of the greatest musical talents of his generation with 21 Grammy awards and 84 platinum singles. Recently though, a series of controversies have pushed Ye into the spotlight for reasons other than his music. 

Between the announcement of his 2024 presidential campaign, his appearance in a “White Lives Matter” shirt at Paris Fashion Week and a tweet stating he was going to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE” that ended up in a suspension of his twitter account, there has been plenty of reason to criticize Ye in the media.

This situation isn’t unique to Ye, however. Scandals with popular artists such as Michael Jackson and R. Kelly have ruined their reputations as well. 

Just like fans of other infamous artists, listeners are faced with a difficult moral dilemma: is it wrong to continue to listen to Ye’s music?

Like in the case of many ethical issues, this conclusion contains no shortage of stipulations.

There is a certain gravity to issues such as racism and antisemitism that can’t be overlooked, especially in the wake of social justice issues such as the murder of George Floyd and the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. In a sensitive environment like this one, there is no place for hate speech.

Because we live in a social environment like this one, it is important that listeners of Ye’s music educate themselves on why his comments could be problematic. Laziness when approaching controversy in Ye’s music is no different than ignorance toward these issues.

However, this phenomenon of separating the art from the artist exists on a spectrum, and there is a point at which artists shouldn’t be given a platform or even be respected for their greatness. 

Everybody can debate about politics and which candidates they support, but there are certain morally unacceptable things that most people in society can agree are bad. Being a bad person is never excused, no matter how many records you’ve sold or Instagram followers that you have.

Many celebrities have a superiority complex because of their status in society, but in reality, there is zero correlation between someone’s cultural relevance and the validity of their social or political commentary.

This goes beyond just musical artists; professional athletes are often given a platform due only to their athletic talent, not due to their intellectual competence. Just because Herschel Walker played in the NFL, it doesn’t mean that he knows anything about politics. Just because Kyrie Irving is a seven-time NBA all star, it doesn’t mean that he’s right about the Earth being flat.

There is no doubt that people like Ye are masters of their craft and geniuses in their respective fields. But when it comes to spreading political conspiracies or hate speech in front of their audience of millions, their ideas cannot be labeled as ‘insightful’ and ‘veritable.’

We are only able to separate the art from the artist if we can first separate the artist from the individual. This is becoming increasingly difficult today though, as fans feel that they must support everything an artist says or does in order to enjoy their music. 

That being said, there is no reason that fans cannot continue to enjoy the work of Ye, as long as they are able to create a definite distinction between the music that Ye creates in the studio and the tweets that he posts online.

Because of the intellect that it requires to truly understand the individual and the art as two independent entities, most people fail to create this distinction and are therefore supporting unethical doctrines by listening to music.

On the other hand, listeners who approach these situations with maturity and can successfully appreciate art for its beneficial impact while also understanding the dangers of the artists can responsibly and morally still listen to tarnished music.

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