Who am I? Someone that’s afraid to let go, uh
You decide, if you’re ever gonna, let me know
I love that song: SAD!. I love all of his albums. I love that melodically husky voice that hides the underlying miserable stories. I wish his voice would break and all of his narratives would burst. And some other times, he hypes me up with his upbeat songs. I always have him on repeat.
At the age of 20, Xxxtentacion was shot dead in Miami during an armed robbery. I was SAD! With thousands of people mourning his sudden tragic death, the curtain was pulled back on his personal life, unveiling many stories, one being a repugnant assault of a pregnant woman. Xxxtentacion, real name Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, was known for living his life using violence and having victims mostly comprised of women and strangers. Even during incarceration, he didn’t stop acting in his violent behaviour: he beat up a man who he believed was gay. He opened up nonchalantly about this homophobic reaction during an interview, yet showed no remorse over the victim and even hypocritically said, “I am not homophobic.”
To me, this act is seriously deplorable, and I am extremely conflicted. It was a disgust to my beliefs and morality. What should we do when the artist we like defies our moral beliefs? Can we separate Xxx’s transgressions from his music?
Some people might argue that separating music from its artist is rational. They believe that it is up to the listeners to give it purpose and meaning through their interpretation of the song. And that music or any other type of art is to be appreciated by the audience.
Some might also counter that it is impossible to completely remove the artists’ identities and their relation to the songs. It is because the song has the essence of that artist. It relates. It is unique to that artist. It is their narrative, their chance to tell their story. We subconsciously always say in our daily conversations things like, “Do you remember the song Like a Girl by Lizzo?” In that moment, you say her name. It’s hers. Therefore, the song has the artist’s own story that is so confinely unique to them which would not sound the same from a different voice.
To help you further understand, here’s a little thought experiment, inspired by Bernard Williams theory on personal identity, to help you think. Let’s say there are two songs: one is called “Like a Girl” by Lizzo and another is “SMASH!” by Xxx. Let’s imagine a change happened, both artists want to experiment with each other’s style of hip-hop, so both artists switch the songs that they sing, resulting in “Like a Girl” by Xxx and “SMASH!” by Lizzo. Would you still listen to those songs? Lizzo, who is known for her act of feminism, is now singing a song that indirectly references the belittling towards women. Would you still listen to that? And would you be willing to accept that Xxx, with all of his evil deeds, raps about female empowerment about feminism? Your decision whether or not to listen to these songs determines what you think of music property. And ultimately, it determines your stance whether it is better to separate artists from their songs.
To explore every inch of this whole question, we can also ask ourselves, “What if the artist is dead?” For instance, the accusation of pedophilia against Michael Jackson. Would it still matter? Another question that is equally worth mentioning is, “By listening to those artists, would you be considered complicit in his or her wrongful deeds?” For example, R. Kelly who has been charged with 11 allegations of sexual abuse in the last decade.
And to be honest, these are other whole debates and as always, opinions vary. Because music is such a huge aspect of my life, I personally find it important to be conscious of what I’m doing, and in this case—what I am listening to. Therefore, a musically literate person like you would be able to decide whether your moral beliefs interfere with your musical taste.
Written by: Rika Chan