Can the art be separated from the artist?


Wikimedia Commons

Kanye West (left) has lost sponsorships over his recent antisemitic remarks, and Rex Orange County (right) was recently charged with six counts of sexual assault.

Brinda Iyer, Copy Editor

Popular musicians Rex Orange County and Kanye West have recently faced backlash for acts of sexual assault and antisemitism, respectively. For the artists’ followers — including many students at Burlingame — listening to their music poses an ethical dilemma. 

Rex Orange County, whose real name is Alexander O’Connor, was charged with six counts of sexual assault against a woman in London on Oct. 10. O’Connor has since been released on bail after pleading not guilty, and he awaits a trial in January.

Two days prior, Ye — formerly known as Kanye West — wrote in a now-deleted tweet that he planned to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Weeks later, Ye’s comments have cost him a number of high-profile partnerships: Balenciaga, Gap, Vogue and Adidas, to name a few.

“Kanye West has had a very interesting past on the internet, so I was not that surprised,” freshman Allegra Terry said. “But for Rex to be accused of sexual assault was kind of a betrayal because he seems like such a nice guy.”

This isn’t the first time artists in the music industry have faced scandals and problems. Ye has had some experience with disputable events, particularly his series of controversies with fellow singer Taylor Swift. As recently as Nov. 2021, rapper Travis Scott faced serious backlash for 10 deaths at his Astroworld concert. The youngest of the Astroworld casualties was just nine years old.

Fans are faced time and time again with the same question: can they still listen to their former favorite singers? Can the art be separated from the artist?

Terry hopes so. In her mind, it’s best to turn away from the drama — away from the personal lives of artists — and celebrate their musical talent.

“Kanye West has been controversial in the past, and I listen to his music anyway,” Terry said. “It is bad to listen to his music, because it is money going straight into his pocket. That being said, I’m probably still going to listen to his music, but I’m not going to support him as a person.”

On the other hand, there are those who correlate the music they listen to with the artists who create it. When an artist does wrong, some people find it difficult to view them and their music in the same way. Knowing that their money and support is going straight into the pocket of someone who’s done bad deeds can impact people’s decisions and choices regarding what content they consume.

“Even though I didn’t know much about [Rex Orange County’s] personality before, six charges of sexual assault is a lot and I think it’s very gross,” junior Bridget Navarro said. “I just don’t want to associate myself with someone like that. Even though it’s hard, I’ll try to stay away from his music.”

In today’s world, people are seemingly more and more desensitized to the misdeeds and offensive actions of singers, songwriters, athletes and other celebrities. For many people, as long as the person committing the action is well-known and well-loved, forgetting a heinous act — even if they are not willing to forgive it — is easy. They continue to support them through consumption of the art they produce, showing their approval and acceptance. 

Because consumers often elevate celebrities to god-like positions in the social hierarchy, some argue that listeners are responsible for holding artists accountable for their actions.

“I’ll definitely try my best [to stop listening to Rex’s music], out of respect for victims of sexual assault,” Navarro said. “Just in general, it’s good to stay away from problematic people.”