Art and Artist: Unchangeably Intertwined?

Shrouded in controversy long before his death in June, rapper XXXTentacion left a trail of increasingly shocking criminal charges in his wake; the likes of which include homophobic attacks and the aggravated battery of a pregnant victim. Yet still, a legion of devoted fans continue to support the musician and defend him regardless of the startling accusations, disregarding them as only ‘alleged’. In heralding him as a pioneer for music, this cult of XXXTentacion fans ultimately fail to acknowledge the complexity of these allegations and those affected by them, erasing a fundamental part of the rapper’s history and his musical legacy.

Credit: Alex Markow

As the case has unravelled, it has grown progressively more gruesome. The latest development has been the release of a secret recording wherein XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Onfroy, admits to having terrorised and assaulted his ex-girlfriend, as well as stabbing nine people. The release of this recording eliminates the claims of ‘allegedly’ and is horrendously incriminating for Onfroy. It is thus increasingly questionable how excusable it is for fans to continue celebrating the rapper and tactically ignoring the charges against him.

Jarringly, this is by no means uncommon – the cult of celebrity has escalated to terrifying heights in recent years. It has almost become expected that people will defend their favourite celebrities through a multitude of despicable charges. The extent to which some fans have become obsessed with their perceptions of their favourite celebrities has turned into something inherently sinister; they are excusable to any misdemeanour or crime, no longer held accountable for their own actions. It is harrowing to observe and raises a fundamental debate around whether art can truly be separated from the artist.

On one hand, many might argue that an artist’s music can exist as a singular entity, without the context of the artist’s life changing their perception. An artist’s music may well have critical merit, mean a lot to someone, or even just be enjoyable, and it is potentially possible to engage with a piece of music without a consciousness of the artist’s wrongdoings. Hence ignoring the artist in favour of enjoying the music. Completely disregarding one of your favourite artists is not a simple task – the emotional attachment to them can be difficult to ignore, and it is not easy to come to terms with the idealised version of them being so far from the truth. However, impossible as it may seem, it is necessary to do.

Credit: Dan Gracia

Yes, there are arguments that state that the separation of art from the artist is possible. Realistically, though, this approach is arguably questionable. By separating the art from its creator, there is a complete disregard for important context. In the case of XXXTentacion, ignoring his crimes is by extension ignoring the victims of his crimes; their suffering is erased when it should be brought to light. To a lesser extent Kanye West has found himself enveloped in controversy of late. Labelling slavery as “a choice” and indignantly supporting Trump amongst an abundance of other things caused fans to question their support of him. Toeing the line of what is acceptable blind ignorance of artists preaching could lead to a lack of debate and acknowledgement of intrinsically problematic issues.

Kanye himself declared that “no one man should have all that power”, but the power dynamic between fan and artist is at the heart of this issue. Artists like Kanye and XXXTentacion, still have an overwhelming degree of power. Their position in the public eye rewards them with a level of influence, setting an alarming standard of normalisation. Promoting destructive ideals in a worrisome manner and, thus it is integral to consider how supporting their art can contribute to this.

If you separate art and artist, you remain supporting the artist by default of supporting the art. Thus, by supporting the artist, you support their questionable ideals and their crimes by extension, as you continue to fund and contribute to their success. This is fundamentally problematic – regardless of whether you agree with their actions is a different manner, by not contesting them, it only fuels this further. Admittedly, it is hard to disentangle art and artist: they are intrinsically intertwined. Separating art and artist is a difficult debate, but in light of the influx of recent controversies, it has become increasingly clear that it is not something we, as listeners and fans, should aim to do. Artists have these platforms to reach a wide-spreading audience and they could so easily utilise this for good – in this day and age, can we really stand by and watch these platforms be abused?

Neive McCarthy

Header Image Credit: XXXTentacion