Fan CULTURE: Are Artists Worthy of Worship?

Alt="Grunge teens"
The Guardian, 2019

In the modern internet era of music listening, it’s not so much a question of if your favorite artist sucks, but moreso how problematic their suckiness is. Social media has put a magnifying glass to the flaws of our idols, and the past months especially ignited flames that would have challenged superfandom. The chaotic political hellscape of 2020 proved a great litmus test for the morals of popular musicians, revealing many as either out of touch or just full on bigots. 

“So before your favorite rapper comes out as a Trump supporter, before an Instagram Live takes a turn for the worse, before your favorite band signs to burger records…”

Whether it be Lana’s bizarre commentary on representation in feminist music, J Cole’s diss track at a black woman during a civil rights movement, Ariel Pink attending the Trump rally that preceded the capital breach, or Doja Cat being outed as a potential ally of white supremacists, it feels like it’s just a matter of time before more musicians are revealed to be something undesirable. But what does this mean for the listener, specifically one that wants to consume responsibly but still have access to the art that they love? The answer is of course tricky, but it comes from not only an understanding of cancel culture, but worship culture first and foremost.

Alt="Lana Del Rey in mask"
Lana Del Rey, 2020

Worship culture is a slippery slope that has become more and more prominent in the internet age. Fans now have technological tools to help them feel closer to their favorite artists than ever before. This can lead to a rich music listening experience and develop artists in fascinating ways, but too much investment and commitment to an artist you’ve never met can be unhealthy on both ends. So before your favorite rapper comes out as a Trump supporter, before an Instagram Live takes a turn for the worse, before your favorite band signs to burger records, or before anything goes wrong in the first place, it’s of the utmost importance that we as listeners establish boundaries between ourselves and the artist in question. When we do this, the sting of that breaking Pitchfork story won’t hurt nearly as much.

Alt="Film crowd surfing"
Endfest, 1991

When we lower our expectations for our favorite artists and understand that they are flawed humans just as we are, both parties benefit. We won’t be as crushed when Frank Ocean still hasn’t dropped his new album, because we’ll understand that he has a life outside of validating our emotions. Likewise he’ll feel more comfortable making honest work without the pressure of millions of people expecting him to push out emotions like a vending machine. Obsessive fans can not only hinder creative processes but also end up inherently defending or validating bad behavior when the artist in question slips up. 

It’s also important to remember that you love and are attached to the art, not the artist. Just like how a nice fitting tee shirt doesn’t indicate it was made by a nice company, good art does not indicate a good person. You love Frank Ocean, not Lonnie Breaux. This understanding will greatly soften the blow if Frank turns out to be an anti-vaxxer, holocaust denier, juggalo apologist, etc. We also won’t feel the need to justify whatever egregious act has been committed.

“For the love of God, WHAT do we do about Morrisey?”

Once boundaries are set and expectations are lowered, cancel culture is much easier to navigate. The correct course of action to take with toxic behavior is much easier to see when the offender in question is viewed as just another person who made a mistake. The clouds of worship will be blown away and we’ll be better able to view the situation for what it is.

Alt="Large crowd in the streets"
Daniel McKnight, 2016

So sure, we can take a step back and enjoy music more realistically, but what do we do when shit hits the fan? Do we take Jon Maus off the study playlist? Do we throw away Dad’s Thriller vinyl? And for the love of God, WHAT do we do about Morrissey? The answer is, in most cases pretty simple. Just listen to whatever you and your peers are comfortable with. This golden rule of personal and collective judgement should get you through most grey areas, but here are some good rules of thumb to consider along the way.

1. Always read the whole article.

It’s 2021 and the news loves to profit off of headlines. Half the time it was taken out of context.

2. Consider the message you’re sending to others.

R. Kelly won’t see that you’re still defending him, but your peers will.

3. Think about what the art is saying.

It’s kind of hard to separate “Last time I wifed a bitch she told the world I beat her,” from XXXTentacion as a person.

4. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Tough calls for certain artists don’t have to be made immediately. Feel free to take time to weigh out the situation.

5. Keep that same energy.

Make sure you apply the same moral standards to everyone without picking favorites.

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