Artist vs. Individual
By BECK KENDIG ‘20
Most music listeners know the popular hip-hop artist Chris Brown. Many more listeners are also familiar with the scandal in which Chris Brown brutally beat singer and songwriter—and Brown’s former girlfriend—Rihanna on February 8, 2009. On the fourth of December of the same year, Brown released “Graffiti,” an album which made an appearance in the top 10 of the US billboard charts. Since 2009, Chris Brown has achieved a phenomenal level of success and fame in the music Industry. According to his Spotify bio, he currently maintains over 20,000,000 monthly Spotify listeners, making him the 63rd most popular musician in the world.
Chris Brown’s continued achievement despite domestic abuse raises a question buried under disregard: should we listen to the music produced by immoral artists? To truly discuss this prompt, we must acknowledge the thought-process of the average music consumer. As shown by Chris Brown’s 20,000,000 monthly listeners, many people are completely capable of listening to the music of a known abuser. Throughout history, musicians have been able to jump to stardom despite their depraved ethics; according to Elizabeth King at broadly.vice.com, Elvis Presley, ‘King of Rock and Roll’ consistently preyed on underage girls during his career. Still, Presley’s music has remained popular for decades.
Most people will listen to the work of immoral artists because, well, the music is good. Just as most consumers are able to distance a piece of clothing from the sweatshops and underpaid workers who created it, most people tend to separate the talented artist from the ethically flawed individual in the realm of music. People respect the work of the musician despite the individual’s crimes. While this disregard of immoral deeds may seem unjustifiable, listening to the music of a particular artist is not inherently bad. In my earlier example I likened the separation of artist and individual to the separation between clothing and its immoral method of production. Although this analogy effectively reflects the common aspects present in the consumer thought-process, there is also a stark difference between these two scenarios. By ignoring the conditions of the workers who produce certain clothing, we perpetuate their worsening condition by continuing to purchase the clothes companies produce using their labor. When it comes to music, however, listening to the work of an immoral artist does not make them a worse person. Therefore, it is possible to appreciate music without agreeing with, supporting, or perpetuating the actions of the individual who produced it. However, those who disagree with this opinion say we should not listen to the music of immoral artists so we can avoid giving them more more exposure. I see the success of these immoral musicians as unfortunate, but also as an inevitable outcome of their talent. Could we, as consumers of art, choose to blacklist controversial individuals in the industry? Certainly. Do I believe we have a moral obligation to do so? No. Will we do so? For the sake of music, I sure hope not.