Kanye West and modern cancel culture: an ongoing battle. Photo from people.com.
The conversation surrounding the idea of being able to separate “the art from the artist” seems like it could practically be as old as time.
With cancel culture at an all-time high in 2021 and celebrities arguably taking a little more caution in the things they say publicly, separating an artist’s work from their personal views, beliefs or affiliations is gradually becoming more common. Whether it be the fact that your favorite actor has made questionable comments on issues you’re passionate about, or a singer’s past behaviors are getting the attention of the media once again, it’s likely we all have had to re-evaluate our support for our favorite artists at one point in time.
For me, the artist in question is Kanye West. He’s probably one of the first names that come to mind in many friend groups and at many dinner tables when talking about “separating the art from the artist.” This is, of course, for a reason.
West is notorious for making outlandish comments, having very public displays of outbursts and for saying some pretty horrible things. Not many need to be reminded of his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards as she accepted the award for Best Female Video; his comments in 2018 on a TMZ Live interview where he said 400 years of slavery sounded like a choice; or his first display of support for former President Trump in 2016, solidified with him sporting a red MAGA hat.
In an interview in 2019 with BigBoy TV, West acknowledged his controversial track record by saying, “I’ve been canceled before cancel culture was a thing.” He’s been known to take pride in the hate his critics give and mock those who don’t agree with his self-proclaimed “genius” title. Despite the fact that social media finds a new reason to cancel West every few months, majority of the time due to his own insensitivity, he continues to drop music that lands on every popular radio and streaming chart and release new seasons of clothing for his $3 billion clothing line Yeezy. One way or another, he will always have an audience to perform for.
I have loved Kanye West for more than half of my life. He’s one of my favorite rappers of all time and his music is extremely important to me. Being from Chicago has also had an impact on why and how much I love his music, especially because his older music reminds me of the city. However, I’ve had to question my loyalty and commitment to following him as an artist because of many of the things he’s said over the years. It can be difficult to give up listening to an artist who reminds you of your childhood or good times growing up, but for some, this doesn’t take any second thought. Either way, the way celebrities are viewed in our society will continue to exempt them from taking full accountability for the harm they may have caused to those who practically worship them.
In my case, I don’t think I could ever realistically give up listening to Kanye West. It’s not an easy thing to hear one of your favorite artists come out in support of people or issues you disagree with, especially if you are someone who takes deep pride in their individual beliefs. It blurs the line between being able to enjoy their art for what it is or choosing to support someone who may have indirectly shown they wouldn’t support you. Even though this isn’t always exactly the case, it can feel like it is, and sometimes that’s enough.