What do you do when an artist you like does something horrible?
Is it possible to still enjoy the music of singers like R. Kelly and Chris Brown
Musicians are just like the rest of us – away from the spotlight they have lives in which they enjoy successes and failures, endure struggles and make mistakes. But I don’t generally care about any of that. I’m just not that interested in what performers do outside the studio or away from the stage. In other words, I distinguish between their musical output and them as people. Unless their stuff-ups involve releasing a dud track, I’m not particularly fazed.
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It’s why I never cared too much that Milli Vanilli were busted for lip syncing in the early 1990s – I was invested in the songs, not the dancers fronting the project. And it’s why pretty much everything Britney Spears did between 2004-08 other than put music out didn’t prevent me from enjoying her tracks. But there’s a pretty major caveat. Sometimes what a musician does in their personal life is way worse than miming, or attacking a car with an umbrella. There are times when they do something so heinous that it makes it hard to keep such a segmented view of them and their body of work.
For example, I feel conflicted about continuing to like certain parts of Chris Brown’s back catalogue. While I find his desecration of Shanice’s “I Love Your Smile” on the recently released “Undecided” abhorrent, I still enjoy a bit of “With You” or “Don’t Wake Me Up”. And I feel like I shouldn’t, given his well-documented assault of ex-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. But then, Rihanna seems to have moved on and Jordin Sparks hasn’t rushed to take her duet with Brown, “No Air”, off online stores and music services, so perhaps I should be fine to still listen to (some of) his output. Hey, at least I didn’t choreograph a wedding dance routine to “Forever”.
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Then there’s R. Kelly, the subject of new docuseries Surviving R. Kelly (Fridays at 9.30pm; Crime + Investigation). Having read some of the news reports surrounding this series when it aired at the start of the year in the US, and having now watched the first episode, I feel sick to my stomach about what I’ve heard. But does that mean I should wipe “Ignition (Remix)” and “She’s Got That Vibe” from my iTunes?
This is where it gets tricky. Nobody is perfect, but some people do things that make them much further away from perfect than others. And the accounts of alleged abuse and underage sex in Surviving R. Kelly will, if true, make it hard to ever listen to the R&B star’s work again. There might come a time when I can appreciate his songs in isolation from what I’ve learnt about him, but I’m not sure that will be any time soon. The upside is, of course, that it’s also unlikely I’ll have to endure the sappy “I Believe I Can Fly” much any more. •
Gavin ScottA pop culture enthusiast from a young age, Gavin is equally passionate about great pop music (’80s synthpop, ’10s dream pop), gripping TV series (Friday Night Lights, The Handmaid’s Tale) and trips to the cinema (I love a blockbuster as much as anyone, but I’m done with the superhero thing).