By Amanda Incalcaterra
In October 2022, Kanye West, now going by the legalized name Ye, donned a t-shirt with the phrase “White Lives Matter” at a Yeezy Fashion Show. Due to the phrase’s use by white supremacist groups, Ye was faced with public backlash. Since then, he doubled down on his decision to spread hate and had even gone further with his racist and anti-semitic remarks on the “Drink Champs” podcast.
The backlash from the public was not the end of Ye’s consequences. With all eyes on Adidas, Ye was officially dropped as a business partner on Oct. 25, 2022, over a week after he appeared on the podcast. He and Adidas had been in collaboration since 2013. According to Forbes, “that move will cost them big, but Ye even more, immediately knocking him out of the billionaire ranks.”
Given these recent events, a debate has surfaced once again — can you truly separate art from the artist?
Many listeners have songs that just resonate with them, so when their favorite musician lets them down, they wonder if it is still acceptable to continue to stream their music. However, it’s been reported that artists do not make much of their income through streaming services at all. According to Business Insider, “the majority of an artist's revenue comes from touring, selling merchandise, licensing their music for things like television, movies, or video games and partnerships or side businesses.”
Therefore, buying tickets to someone like Ye’s live performances and purchasing their merchandise and physical copies of their albums is definitely not appropriate. It would also be unacceptable for an artist like Ye to be approached with brand deals or partnerships. All of these profits would directly support the artist, and, as proven, are most artists' main source of income.
While some argue that an artist’s music is the telling of their own story, and therefore their music cannot be separated from them, we all have our own connections to some songs. When I hear certain songs, I very rarely associate them with the artists themselves — some songs actually remind me of my own life or even a certain time period in my life. Additionally, you can easily view the artist and their music as two separate things, so long as their music does not reflect their problematic ideologies.
With this in mind, and given that the streams themselves barely go toward the artists, I think that it is acceptable to listen to the music that you resonate with regardless of who is behind it. After all, there is a difference between idolizing an artist and just casually listening to their music. Enjoying one’s music is one thing, but defending their actions that hurt people is completely different. Continuing to listen to their music is acceptable given that you have an understanding of and recognize what the artist did wrong, do not actively support them or their beliefs and simply just enjoy their music.
Personally, I believe this debate has definitely gone too far, with more people focused on criticizing innocent listeners over the artists themselves. The artist’s work should not be the first thing we think of when an artist has a shortcoming. We should be focusing on why the artist made this mistake in the first place and how we can make the music industry a safer space for everyone to express themselves.