Is the culture creating a toxic tendency to want to “Cancel” artists?
How many times have we as a culture agreed to cancel someone this year alone, to no avail? So many names come to mind when pondering the reality that our semi-universal agreements to no longer support or acknowledge a person’s beliefs has done nothing but arguably make them bigger. Unlike elementary school where if you ignored a bully they would go away (allegedly), celebrities who assume the “bully” status here can simply tweet to their heart’s desire and promote whatever they would like to with no real loss aside from a few followers. There are a few big reasons for that and the limited results that come from engaging in cancel culture, one of which being the fact that “semi-universal agreements” had to be said above.
no more cancel culture
— ye (@kanyewest) September 30, 2018
It’s ironic that the same man who can make a Tweet like this and call for the end of “cancel culture” happens to be its biggest beneficiary as of late. There was a time where Jesus walked with Kanye West, in reference to his 2004 Grammy-winning hit “Jesus Walks” that many identified with and championed. There was a time where he stood on national TV and told viewers that former President George W. Bush does not care about black people, back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast and artists came together for a benefit concert. A time where even when he might not be saying what he wanted to say the right way, people stood by him because he was a voice and advocate for black people despite being so narcissistic.
Now, he’s a MAGA-hat wearing, Donald Trump-praising, requirement-of-slavery questioning sycophant. Whether it be his alleged opioid addiction, being associated for so long with the polarizing Kardashian-Jenner clan, or simply finding the most problematic ways to market himself and his products, the man we once knew is gone. Yet as much as people dislike what he has become and plot to boycott his clothing and music, TMZ reported his shoe sales have maintained their norm.
His eponymous eighth studio album moved over 208k units first week, making Kanye, Eminem and The Beatles the only artists to debut eight straight albums at No. 1 on Billboard. His talented label G.O.O.D Music took over the end of May and nearly the entire month of June with five 7-song albums, each of which were lauded for either their overall aura (Pusha T‘s Daytona), mental health awareness and experimental sound (Kanye and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts), nostalgia and wokeness (Nas‘s NASIR), or simply being a long time coming (Teyana Taylor‘s KTSE.)
Though the numbers were strongest on the projects where he contributed actual vocal work, each release has been advocated for by a different demographic of listeners for various reasons. Herein lies the issue and brings us back to that “semi-universal agreement” thing.
The outrage at Kanye and what he says and does has seemingly grown by the day. Yet there are many who simply do not care what Kanye West says or does, as long as he continues to make music they enjoy. Hell, there are people who do care what he says and does and may even be personally affected by it, but they find themselves able to separate the artist from their beliefs and actions.
There’s no rule book on how to be properly be an artist. Some perpetuate aspects of themselves and their beliefs through their music, and others keep those things separate by design. The man who asked God to show him the way because the devil is trying to break him down, despite often referring to himself as a god which directly opposes beliefs within various religions, has long been looked to as a source of inspiration. His story and his music contributed to an overall image that made many view him as a genius and someone to aspire to be.
Although, the man himself did say “Name one genius that ain’t crazy” back in 2016’s “Feedback” off of Life Of Pablo. We aren’t here to dish out our definition or any medical definition of crazy, but if people believe that and he himself has said so…why haven’t we tried to help him out? His opioid addiction is well known, and relapse is very real. Even if he’s turned his back on fans and used fans merely as consumers for things he wants to sell, there are those who cling to the Old Kanye. If anyone believes he’s still in there, publicly denouncing him which in essence gives him the attention he craves isn’t the way to get him to come out.
Cancel culture can be likened to the prison system. People agree someone is bad or has done bad things, so they dismiss them. This may not be true for all inmates, but what good did prison do for those who got released and committed their crimes again? The same can be asked for those who we vilify without actually addressing what is wrong.
Ye has recently backtracked, claiming he is done with politics and focused on being creative. This could be a result of the fact he realizes time is ticking and people are expecting multiple projects from him. Maybe he has actually come to his senses and realized he’s being used as a pawn by Trump. Or, perhaps maybe the Twitterverse’s semi-cancellation has actually gotten to him. You know, despite the success of his Lil Pump-assisted track “I Love It” being released in the thick of his nonsense and consistent headlines he receives. Maybe that last point ain’t it.
By no means is this in defense of Kanye West, in any way. Marketing, drug addiction, or whatever the cause or intent is, his words and actions do hurt. To 45 and his supporters, Kanye is a representation of black people and he has only empowered them to continue living and thinking the way they do. Time will tell if he actually sticks to staying out of the political sphere, and even if he does that does not mean the issues within him are cured.
It’s like handing a water bottle to someone attempting to put out a forest fire. It might help the issue a bit, but it’s not completely erased. And it goes beyond Kanye West. Streaming titan Spotify decided to a take their own stand, by removing problematic artists with criminal backgrounds from their official playlists back in May. Those who were affected include XXXTentacion, R. Kelly and Tay-K.
It was an admirable and socially responsible move by Spotify, as their playlists generate a lot of traffic and revenue. However, in this day and age, those who are rightfully passionate about these causes desired more. They questioned why only these three artists were targeted when people like Chris Brown, Vic Mensa and Tupac Shakur‘s content remains unscathed. They also wondered why the three artists content wasn’t completely removed from the streaming service, let alone the Spotify sponsored playlists. Spotify clarified they do not censor content but they are particular about what they promote through their extremely popular playlists.
While more objective thinkers may have seen this as a valid defense, it still wasn’t enough. And it didn’t take but a little over two weeks for Spotify to double back on their punishment, in adding these artists back. They switched up, in part due to internal disagreement with the policy but also the fact superstar rapper Kendrick Lamar publicly spoke out against Spotify. He threatened to remove his music in support of XXXTentacion, whom he was a fan of.
Top Dawg, CEO of Kendrick’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, questioned the move by Spotify as well and why it only targeted specific genres. It was a valid retort, and it was evidence of a misstep by Spotify. Their intentions were in the right place, in not supporting a known domestic abuser, murderer, and man who holds women hostage. However, they did not think it through nor did they consider those in other cultures who were guilty of the exact same things but not being removed from playlists.
Spotify’s effort was representative of another one of those semi-universal agreements, as the entire company couldn’t even agree on the decision. The fallout reflected negatively on the company, and it’s yet another issue with cancel culture. The decision was seemingly made pertaining to three artists who had made recent headlines for their wrongdoings, and did not consider those who have messed up in the past. Decisions nowadays to turn against celebrities/artists are rash, and don’t take full context into consideration.
Social media has afforded us the ability to gain access to news instantly, share content immediately, and participate in active discussions on topics as the information within them continuously unfolds. Because people get so much so fast, they can often feel the need to act fast. The initial reaction isn’t always the best one.
It’s a big step for a world made up of so many people to come to a “semi-agreement” on who should be “cancelled.” The next step is actually cancelling them, if people really mean it. Mobilizing and actively campaigning to hinder the shoe sales, encouraging people not to stream the content, and doing one’s best to not pay attention to the inevitable headlines are all examples of things that can be done to really make a statement, especially when occurring on a large scale by many people.
The famous saying goes “all publicity is good publicity.” The more people find reasons to talk about Kanye West or XXXTentacion, the large they become. Legendary producer 9th Wonder laid the blueprint out very well on an old episode of Complex’s Everyday Struggle when he referenced artists whose content he doesn’t approve of and how in his desire to make them go away, he simply pays them no mind. By talking about someone and what they do, they become bigger even if for a negative reason.
With cancel culture, it needs to be a step beyond simply expressing the cancellation of the Kanye’s, R. Kelly’s, or Tay-K’s of the world. Well thought-out action needs to actually be taken, because if not then the proponents of cancel culture with valid intent may never succeed in their missions.