My favorite singer is problematic, and I don’t care

Natalie Comerford, Opinion Columnist

Illustration by Holly VanVoorhis.

It seems impossible to keep up with celebrity drama. Take, for example, Rex Orange County’s recent sexual assault accusations, Taylor Swift’s enormous carbon footprint or Kayne West’s anti-semitic tweets. As information comes out about the artists we grew up loving, the “wokest” among us swear off the latest canceled artist. While I may have no respect for, say, Kanye West as a human being, his actions — while abhorrent — do not detract from the value of his art. The same can be said for any number of problematic artists.

As I grow older and learn more about the artists I grew up loving and listening to, I keep finding myself embarrassed about still enjoying music by canceled musicians. Music has played in the background of what feels like every important moment of my life, and memories remain connected to songs. Art has always been sentimental and an important value in my life. How could I give up the memories I have of “All Falls Down” when I found out about Kanye’s problematic behavior? Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan may be terrible human beings, but that cannot take away all the value of their art, especially because the art itself never changed. Our perception of how or why it was created changes, and our inability to enjoy it after is a silly moral qualm; in most cases, we would be happier if we just pushed this to the side.

I believe that art can stand on its own, and its value cannot be stripped by the artists’ actions. I do have to admit, though, it is hard to enjoy “Ignition” as much after watching the documentary about R. Kelly, because I now associate the song with the movie, which was upsetting. Still, I have to appreciate the art, and I still think it’s a great song. I just can’t listen to it as often. Art can still stand on its own when the artist has committed egregious acts, but it does add a layer of complexity and guilt when I listen to especially horrible artists, such as R. Kelly or Chris Brown. In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Rex Orange County, I’m still finding it difficult to listen to his songs, and it may take some time until the art feels separate from the artist in my head. 

As I scrolled through the immense library of TikToks cyberbullying Taylor Swift after it came out that she was one of the celebrities who used private jets the most, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t excited for Oct. 21 when her new album comes out. But, I soon found this exercise was futile. “Evermore” and “Folklore” were two of her best albums, and despite my feelings toward her as a person, I can’t deny that she’s talented. I’m undoubtedly excited about her new album, just as I shamelessly listen to a large portion of the (early) Kanye West discography. 

While I can fully recognize that many artists are bad people, it has never stopped me from enjoying their music. Art is such a personal choice, and it creates a different level of connection to the artist for each one of us. I can separate art from artist to a point, and I like that separation because otherwise there would be a lot more songs I couldn’t listen to. 

The way in which we experience art and take value from it cannot be completely removed when an artist does something illegal or immoral; in our society, that’s just not realistic. For now, I’d rather feel a little morally questionable if it means I don’t have to remove about half the songs in my library.