Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why I'm Keeping My Gnarls Barkley CD

In case you didn't read the news yesterday, CeeLo Green has some...unconventional opinions about what constitutes 'rape'. The tweets have been deleted now, but thanks to this Buzzfeed article, we still know what they said.

The general public have taken the tweets to mean that CeeLo doesn't consider it 'rape' if the victim is unconscious. That's a pretty controversial line to take, and if that genuinely is what Mr Green believes, it's going to be difficult to view him in the same light from now on.

However, I'm not here to discuss whether or not the rape of an unconscious victim is actually rape (partially because this is a music blog, but also because OBVIOUSLY IT IS). Instead, I'd like to focus on the following comment, left at the bottom of the aforementioned Buzzfeed article:

Now, this is an issue that I've spent a lot of time thinking about. Are we obliged to stop liking somebody's music if that somebody turns out to be, well, not a very nice person? Halley Reed's reaction (i.e. "They did something bad so I don't like their songs any more!") is a pretty common one - when one of our favourite artists says or does something that we find unacceptable, we instinctively stop listening to their songs. If you want a (rather extreme) example, you need only look at all the Lostprophets CDs in your local charity shop.

But I'm not convinced that this reaction is a sensible one. I vehemently disapprove of CeeLo's comments, but I don't intend to donate my copy of Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere to Scope anytime soon (granted, CeeLo Green's rape remarks aren't remotely comparable with the crimes of Ian Watkins, but still). I don't believe that disliking an artist as a person is reason enough to automatically dislike that artist's music, particularly if you enjoyed said music before you realised that you didn't like its creator.

In a nutshell, hatred of an artist should not necessarily equal hatred of their music. Here are two reasons why:

1. If we only listened to music by nice people, we'd have very small record collections
Let's say I do throw out my Gnarls Barkley album. Do I also have to purge Elvis Costello (racist remarks in the '70s), Jimmy Page (alleged paedophile), and Busted (supporters of the Conservative Party) from The Album Wall? Even R.E.M., my all-time favourite band of all time, aren't totally clean - remember Peter Buck's antics on that British Airways flight?

Here's the point: famous musicians sometimes do things that no decent person would condone, and so we can either start second-guessing our own visceral reactions ("Ooh, I like this song, but what if the singer is some kind of awful bigot? I'd better Google him before I commit to anything...") or we can learn to separate the music from the people who make it. Obviously, it would be nice if musicians just stopped being dicks, but why should we limit our own listening enjoyment in the meantime?

2. Music doesn't always reflect the person who wrote it
Here's a thought experiment: if Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP*, wrote and recorded the most beautiful, most profound song ever (with lyrics that contained absolutely no reference to his far-right politics)...would you enjoy it? I think I probably would. Acknowledging Mr Griffin as the world's greatest musical genius would leave a bitter taste in my mouth, but in the end, a beautiful melody is beautiful regardless of whether it was penned by John Lennon or Jean-Marie Le Pen.

So, to reiterate, St. Elsewhere will remain on my CD rack no matter what CeeLo Green says. Why should a great song like Smiley Faces be held accountable for the awfulness of the man who sang it?

*Read: somebody with values and beliefs that completely oppose your own.

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