They say that geniuses are often the most tormented souls. There are many examples of creatives that have changed the direction of every art form all while carrying on with the most uncouth of existences. We, as the audience, often find ourselves stuck between a rock and hard place as we try to justify our fandom for artists that have committed acts that society has deemed as unforgivable. How many times have we sat in a car or chilled in our favorite room in our homes and secretly enjoyed a song by musicians that would cause us to receive a jury full of judgmental side eyes in the court of public opinion? Where do we draw the line? Should our morality take the driver seat when it comes to consuming the product made by “problematic” creatives and condemn Frankenstein and his monster equally or is there a grey area that needs to be taken into account? As a music lover, the case at hand is never as open and shut as one may think.
I used to refer to R. Kelly as that guy who sounded like (and took the style of) Aaron Hall of the late 80’s R&B group Guy when he first hit the scene. Robert Kelly wrote and produced some of the greatest music in the mid-90s (“I Believe I Can Fly” has annoyed me for 20 years!) but there was something odd about him. Rumors became reality when it was revealed that the then 27 year old Pied Piper (dude really? Pied Piper? we should’ve seen the signs at the beginning!) had married the late Aaliyah when she was only 15 years of age. What I’m about to say is very cliche but for him to produce her debut album titled Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number is a sick punchline that continues to rewrite itself. It wouldn’t be until 2002, that is if my memory serves me correctly, when Kelly and Jay-Z were poised to released their collaborative project Best of Both Worlds, that the sextape which featured him “ALLEGEDLY” indulging in lewd acts with women, one being a MINOR, was released to the public. This was the era before social media so even though his reputation was tarnished , he was still able to release music which for some reason eclipsed his misdeeds. It seemed like he was the musical Teflon Don but the more music that he released, the weirder he became. For example, I remember seeing a photo of him dressed like a 47 year old Soulja Boy. Earlier this year, his name was once again thrown in the midst of scandal when it was said that he led some sort of sex cult that included young adult women and the internet went nuts. A year or so prior, he made an appearance on Huffington Post Live and played himself while trying to detract from the interviewers hard hitting questions regarding the charges of sexual misconduct. In some way I felt that we, as an audience were also enablers that didn’t give a shit about his darkness just as long as he gave us a beat to dance to and that was a serious a problem. If the same accusations were made against your everyday John Doe that worked at your local post office, would we be as forgiving or as nonchalant about his actions? Hell No. You can bet that there would be something close to an angry mob ready and raring to tar and feather the perpetrator.
I don’t want to believe that Michael Jackson molested those children because Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous were way too lit for him to do that shit. I can’t lie, MJ was a peculiar individual but I refuse to think that he’d cross that line;. He loved the kids but didn’t LOVE the kids if you catch my drift. If it was indeed true that he did what he was accused of, I could no longer listen to his music in good conscience. Same goes for Chris Brown, who’s heinous indiscretion will haunt him forever. He could save 100 Tibetan babies from a burning temple all while moonwalking and his reputation will still find a place among the derelicts in Shit’s Creek. As time passes, we discover that many of our “icons” were troubled individuals. Some were abusive to others or in tragically abused themselves. We judge them with the gavels given to us by our parents and the societal rules by which we govern ourselves but we often make exemptions for celebrities if we like them enough. This troubles me in ways that’s hard to put into words but I’m a writer so I better try my best. I love the music of Bob Marley but I’d be dumb to think that just because he sung about peace and love that he was without flaws, and if you read “No Woman, No Cry” by Rita Marley, then you too would understand my perspective. So here’s the dilemma: Is it possible to enjoy the music while holding the artists accountable or is there no compromise?
It’s truly a tough call and with conflicted yet very talented artists like XXXtentacion running about (he’s been accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend) where do we draw the line? And why do we continue to make excuses for artists that commit these types of foul acts but if some random person hurt those that we love in a similar fashion, we would be up in arms ready to do jail time. There’s such a strong sense of ambivalence that I have when it comes to everyone’s apathetic nature. I know that no one is a saint and even saints have skeletons in their closets (Ahem Mother Theresa anyone?) which makes judging others for their imperfections a bit of a issue especially for me since I dislike self righteousness. Forgiving is something that’s underrated and it’s hard as hell to do but it’s even more a feat to have compassion for those that consistently exhibit a reckless and destructive behavior.