R. Kelly, Jesse Lacey, Michael Jackson. These men were all once powerful and adored voices in the entertainment industry. Their music was the soundtrack to many people's lives and their lyrics reached audiences worldwide. In light of recent allegations against several influential individuals in cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of men, women, and children, it is clear an unsettling pattern of psychological damage plagues these cases.
Not only do the perpetrators often possess unsettling patterns of past behaviors, but the negative impacts on the mental health of survivors is also evident. It is easy to condemn the individual for their wrong-doing and to stand in support of the victim, but what do we do with their music? Michael Jackson was arguably one of the most famous musicians of all time, with millions of fans around the world and several tributes to his legacy. His work played a significant role in shaping the landscape of the music industry, and he inspired many young artists to pursue their dreams. R. Kelly's music has been around for decades, and he has played concerts all around the world. Jesse Lacey was a personal hero of mine, and I had gone to my first and last Brand New concert just a couple weeks before the news broke of his sexual misconduct.
Fans are left wondering if they should "separate the artist from the art" or if they should condemn the individual and their work altogether. The loud voices on either side of the argument are evidence of the confusion that fans are left with after a significant part of their identity has been called into question. Some completely disown the band, acknowledge the effect their music had on them in the past, but otherwise bid them farewell. Some blame victims, poke holes in their claims and disrespecting their stories. Some people got tattoos removed. Others got new ones.
Although there is no clear answer, it can be difficult to listen to a song the same way after realizing the context that might have been underlying the lyrics. By paying for their albums, merchandise, and streaming their music, we are giving abusers a platform and rewarding them for their behavior. However, music is a collaborative effort, and the artist's work is the product of many other band members, producers, and musicians. The songs hold significant memories for many fans, and the lyrics may have helped them get through difficult times or come to terms with their own realities.
Whether or not someone is able to successfully separate the artists from their art is a personal decision. It has to do with how much the music means to them as well as their personal opinions on forgiveness and redemption. Problematic people have created literature, films, artwork, and music that are still revered today, but with the advent of the #MeToo movement and the widespread reach of technology, these cases have become more transparent. What we choose to do with that information will not change past events, but it will influence the way society handles and punishes these individuals in the future. If people do decide to stop listening to those artists, it could usher in an era of newer artists who we can hold to a higher moral standard.
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