Music listeners grapple with accusations against singers

May 20, 2019

After several accusations emerged against singer R. Kelly regarding multiple accounts of sexual misconduct, including child pornography and underage sex, protests broke out across the nation.

R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and Chris Brown were hugely popular musicians, who have now had their reputations defiled following accusations of sexual violence. Their songs have redefined R&B, hip hop and pop. All of them were named “kings” of their respective musical genres.

But with sexual violence scandals surfacing, there has been a lot of controversy in the music industry regarding whether or not it is right to continue supporting such offenders.  

A photograph of journalist Gayle King, seated with her hands placed on her lap, looking at an impassioned Kelly pointing upward, went viral last month after his first televised interview since his arrest. Kelly is accused of more than two decades of sexual abuse.

After HBO’s “Leaving Neverland,” a documentary with two men who said Jackson had abused them as boys, people did not know if “Thriller” or “Billie Jean” would ever be the same.

So what do student musicians think?

For senior Nick Anmahian, who plays the piano, knowing the story behind a song changes it for him.

“There are some songs that you hear it {and} you don’t know what any of it means but you just like the sound of it,” Anmahian said. “Fleetwood Mac, I loved their music for a long time. Then I watched a documentary about that band and I started to learn about what the words meant and it all became a million times better — to know where the meaning came from. It completely changes how you view it. It’s no longer about surface level. It’s saying something.”

Anmahian believes that a musical scandal for an artist he follows would change his view on that musician, but not make him stop listening to their music. He remembers liking a folk song by Charles Manson.

“It is a weirdly complex thing to think about disconnecting the music from the artist,” Anmahian said. “If there’s a real cultural value on a certain song or certain music why don’t you teach it more? To really educate people there are no good people, there are no bad people, there are just people that do good and bad things.”

Anmahian brings up John Lennon as an example.

“John Lennon, he was a real s*** father. {But} should we stop listening to the Beatles? Should we stop listening to all the songs that meant something about world peace or personal peace or internal struggles? Should we abandon all the musical genius and progress and the way he shaped rock music, and pop music and the world? I really don’t think so,” Anmahian said. “And that’s not to say we should separate the music from the artist. I think that recognizing and reconciling the good and bad parts of human beings is actually bringing that together more.”

Former allegations against Michael Jackson that he molested young boys have recently resurfaced. Jackson denied these claims until his death in 2009.

#MuteRKelly has been posted all over Twitter and some artists who have collaborated with Kelly in the past have pulled their songs off platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and YouTube. However, a statement from Kelly’s management team read “Kelly’s music is a part of American and African-American culture that should never — and will never — be silenced.”

Senior and singer Joia Putnoi can see both sides of the controversy. Though she may not like some of the things an artist has done, she knows how much their music can affect someone.

It’s not as black and white as that,” Putnoi said. “It’s very complicated and it definitely holds me in this weak spot of I appreciate and love music, but when do you separate the artist and their art?”

A year ago, her A cappella group wanted to perform a song by indie rocker Garrett Borns, but did not end up doing so after accusations of sexual harassment against him broke out.

When I am in the car I still will play his music and sing along to it, but there’s this guilt I feel when I listen. Maybe I shouldn’t be listening but I still love his music a lot so I don’t know,” Putnoi said. “I think it’s okay to appreciate the music even if you don’t appreciate the person, but just have the conscious part of you reminding yourself of who that person is and of their past.”

Senior Ranna Shahbazi, who sings opera music, believes this to be true.

“Because I love Michael Jackson’s music so much it would be hard for me not to listen to his music in the future,” Shahbazi said. “But having said that, every time I’m going to listen to him, from now until the rest of my life, I’m definitely going to think about all the accusations.”

Shahbazi does not know where she stands on the issue of separating music from the artist.

“You can draw a lot of influence from someone’s music and not know anything about them as a person {so} maybe it’s okay to listen to the music, but at the same time, a lot of the reason why these artists are able to even have so much influence and are able to manipulate so many younger people is because they have the influence from their music in the first place,” Shahbazi said.

Today, Jackson’s songs are still played on the radio with the usual streaming pattern, according to the New York Times, but an episode of the Simpsons with Jackson’s voice was pulled and radio stations in Canada and New Zealand said they would stop playing his songs. Kelly was dropped by his record label, RCA Records, and as more women have come forward with allegations against him, his CD sales and downloads have fallen by half.

About the Writer
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Natalie Jew, Longform Managing Editor

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Music listeners grapple with accusations against singers