Can you separate the music from the artist?
November 2, 2022
On Oct. 8, famous rapper Ye, also known as Kanye West, posted a hateful stream of antisemetic and white-supremacist comments on the platforms Twitter and Instagram. After being restricted from both apps, many have called on his fans to end their support for West and to stop streaming his music, but where do we draw the line?
Do not listen to the music or the man
Kanye West’s most recent antisemitic comments have cost him his corporate empire and perhaps his musical career. It might seem acceptable to still listen to an artist’s music as long as you don’t support the artist themself. This idea sounds delightful in theory but it is hard to see how it could be carried out. The support for an artist consists of actively helping them profit, whether it is subscribing to their platforms, streaming their music, or buying their products.
In this case, West said something that is hurtful to Jewish people. Many of his fans do not condone his actions and are looking for a way to keep streaming his music without supporting him. The issue is that there is no way that a fan could listen to an artist’s song without them profiting from it. Platforms such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music give creators money for their streams. Unless the platforms themselves impose penalties for West’s actions, the separation of music and the artist, when put into practice, seems impossible.
Even if platforms were able to penalize artists when they encourage discriminatory language, it is still hard to quantify how that will happen. Platforms will need to come up with a set definition of guidelines to follow during an artist’s professional and personal life. Then, they have to have these changes approved and inform everyone posting content on their platform. The last step would be where problems begin to seep in. How much profit can the platform legally hold? All these changes of procedures are costly and can damage professional connections, so the hassle is not worth it. This, of course, reinforces that the most efficient way to separate profit from the artist is for fans to stop streaming his music completely.
It might seem like wearing Kanye branded items purchased before the incident would be okay, but that reality is also difficult. Instead of using merch in public, change it for at home or cleaning attire. This may seem very extreme but there is one thing that must be kept in mind: the merchandise is bringing exposure to the artist.
Sometimes people buy products, like Yeezy, without knowing anything about the creator. If a person finds someone wearing a pair of yeezys and ends up liking the style they will be sure to buy them. Money will flow right to the creator’s pocket even if the person who bought the product did not agree with what the creator did or said. This mindfulness of consumer usage is very complicated. People need to constantly overview choices and rethink what they do. Of course this does not mean you cannot ever wear or use what you bought but to be aware of how it could help the artist.
Every choice we make has an effect. I am not suggesting to throw away all the shirts or yeezy you bought. Just keep them at home while the artist resolves the trouble he has caused. In the end, the choice is ours. If you really feel that Kanye’s comments were wrong, you should spend your money in alignment with your values.
Listen to the music, not the man
How would you feel if one of your favorite artists said, “When I wake up, I’m going Death Con 3 on Jewish people.” Or this: “The Jewish people have their hand on every single business that controls the world?” Now how would you feel if they had a net worth of $1.8 billion and made even more of a profit off of these hateful statements?
These were tweets posted by famous rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, on Oct. 8. With over 31.7 million Twitter followers, the artist’s series of antisemitic comments and threats led to his account being restricted by the company. That same day, West made an Instagram post in a shirt bearing the phrase “White Lives Matter” at Paris Fashion Week. West then continued to post on the app, suggesting that Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, was being “controlled by the Jewish people,” leading to his restriction there as well.
While this stream of hate was offensive and outlandish, it was not unexpected. From his storming of Taylor Swift’s speech at the 2009 VMAs to his 2020 presidential election campaign, West has a history of making spontaneous decisions and insulting remarks. Although the rapper has spoken out about his struggles with bipolar disorder, it is still no excuse for the hate he transmits to others. By making comments such as “I can say antisemitic sh*t and Adidas can’t drop me,” West has given a green light to his viewers that antisemitism and unjustified hate can be easily excused, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
This has been detrimental to the rapper’s career and profit, taking him off of the Forbes billionaire list after his shoe line “Yeezy” was dropped by Adidas. Releasing music since 2004, West has an estimated 51 million monthly listeners on platforms such as Spotify, bringing disappointment to his millions of loyal fans. Commonly seen in today’s “cancel culture,” many have called upon West’s fans to stop listening to his music and supporting him as an artist. So while West has rightfully received consequences and backlash for his actions, must his fans also be held accountable? This answer is not so simple.
There is a difference between saying, “I love this Kanye song,” and “I love Kanye West.” A song is not a person. An album does not make hateful and antisemitic remarks. A shoe does not support white supremacy. However, the creator does. So where do we draw the line? It is possible to separate the art from the artist, as long as the listener understands and condemns the creator’s actions. Just because you enjoy listening to a song does not mean you do or should support the singer as a person. After all, we don’t actually know celebrities on a personal level.
What we can do is appreciate the artist’s previous work without supporting their actions or future releases. Of course, there will always be a profit made when streaming an artist’s music, which can be hard to get around, but other releases like merchandise and product lines can be avoided more easily. It’s one thing to listen to an artist’s old music in the comfort of your home or car, but exclusively wearing Yeezy shoes and Kanye sweatshirts to school while reposting his recent tweets on social media is another. You don’t need to constantly remind people that you’re a diehard Kanye fan in order to appreciate some of his music. Any extra attention given to the artist could further fuel his hatred and platform. If you had previously bought one of his albums, you don’t necessarily have to throw them out, but do not continue to support him financially.
Sadly, we can assume that most celebrities have had a past. Whether it be a newly found tweet from their teenage years, an offensive photo or even criminal allegations, we truly do not know how our favorite artists are as actual people. So does this mean you shouldn’t support or love any music or media? Absolutely not. We can’t always control what lyrics or rhythms speak to us, but we can control which artists we support as people. So next time you’re scrolling through your Spotify or Apple Music playlist, don’t feel guilty for listening to “Graduation” or “The Life of Pablo,” just understand that while West has created beautiful music, his actions are unjustified and unacceptable.