Walking Contradictions

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Music Culture, Music Industry
Tags: , , , , , ,
The music industry is full of kinds of characters, so it’s not shocking then that musicians, like all celebrities, often get involved in controversies. I’m not talking about drugs or sex scandals, because let’s face it, who hasn’t been involved in one of those. I’m talking about controversies that gain not only significant media attention, but also cause a significant fan reaction. I know as music fans we’re supposed to be able to separate a musician’s professional life from their personal life. But it’s not always so easy. Where’s that line? How far do they have to go to for their music careers to be affected? Is it different depending on who the artist is? Here’s a look at a few such incidents.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Musicians have the unique privilege of having their voices heard. They know how to appeal to the masses via their music, live shows, interviews, websites, and so on. Enter Kanye West. Now he has been known to speak his mind on more than one occasion (usually to express his disdain for not  getting what he thinks he deserves), earning him a reputation of being quite arrogant. His second album Late Registration dropped on August 30th, 2005 and debuted at #1 on Billboard 200. On September 2nd of the same year Mr. West claimed on a telethon that George Bush didn’t care about black people. Not the kindest comment one could make about one’s President, but apart from a few surprised faces, it did not in any way affect his album sales and no one really cared about it a few days later.

Now put this against the Dixie Chicks controversy of 2003. While playing a show in London, England, lead singer Natalie Maines admitted to feeling ashamed that current U.S. President Bush was from Texas, due to her differing opinions with him on the war in Iraq. Classified as an anti-Bush comment, fans went crazy. They started boycotting their music, burning their albums and sending death threats. Their single “Landslide” fell from #10 to #43 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in one week; a week later, it wasn’t even on the charts. All this because she said something.

Kanye insulted the President on live television, on U.S. soil; Natalie made a comment about the same President all the way in London, England. Of course, not every single Dixie Chicks fan reacted in such an extreme way, but there were enough to gain media attention. Does this mean Dixie Chicks fans over-reacted or do they just draw the line at political opinions? Or is it just Kanye West fans don’t take political opinions as seriously? Is Kanye West more popular than the Dixie Chicks, which is why he was able get away with it?

Religion is always a complicated topic to address, especially when you’re famous. Let’s talk about Madonna. We all know how famous she is and how she likes to push the envelope as often as possible. Her video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer”, depicted several burning crosses and her making love to some sort of religious figure. The Vatican was not too happy about this and banned her from performing in Italy. The video had come about as a collaboration with Pepsi who due to all the heat from various religious groups had to drop her sponsorship. However, “Like a Prayer” did famously well and none of this caused even the slightest bit of a dent in Madonna’s career. As we all know.

Flip to Sinead O’connor. Best known for her 1990’s contribution, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Sinead sparked a huge controversy in 1992 when she appeared as musical guest on SNL and ripped a photo of the Pope and calling him evil and the enemy (this was during the height of child abuse discoveries within the Catholic church). After the SNL incident, Sinead released her next album in 1994, entitled Universal Mother. Despite pretty good reviews, it just wasn’t enough to get her career back on track. Since then, though she continues to make music, I wouldn’t really say her career is booming.

One could argue that Madonna is just more talented than Sinead and that’s why her music career hasn’t been as illustrious. Fair enough. But it’s almost like Madonna’s controversy only drew more attention to her song and video, whereas Sinead’s actions just maybe went too far in some people’s opinions. Was it just that Sinead’s music wasn’t as popular as Madonna’s so it couldn’t carry her past the incident? Maybe.

This is the toughest controversy for me to get my head around. Domestic abuse. We’ll start with Chris Brown. A young hip-hop artist often referred to as the next Usher, had a career that was gaining momentum rapidly and offered the whole package: the look, the voice, the moves. I for one had no issue with him, didn’t mind hearing his generally upbeat songs at a club or on the radio. Then in February 2009 he was accused of domestically abusing his then girlfriend singer Rihanna. His album Graffiti released later that year did poorly and received pretty negative reviews, most commenting on the poor quality of his music. It’s hard to say if this was a result of what had happened, though it’s possible. But his latest release, 2011’s F.A.M.E., spawning its first single “Yeah 3x” in October 2010, debuted at #1. Maybe it’s because the incident occurred when Chris was only 19. Maybe because I, as most of the public, was able to see a photo of Rihanna after Chris attacked her (courtesy of TMZ – how do they do it!). Maybe because every time I see Chris Brown, I see that photo. Whatever the reason, I refuse to listen to his music or support him in any way shape or form. He recently appeared on Good Morning America and when asked about the Rihanna incident he got angry and instead of performing a second song, he trashed the dressing room, ripped off his shirt (apparently in a Hulk-like manner) and after security was called, he eventually left the building topless. I don’t think the whole anger management thing is working.

Now if we take a look at Eminem, the story changes. Here’s a guy who is a lyrical genius, one of a kind. Arguably one of the best rappers out there. His lyrics are honest, angry and always make a statement, which is what I love most about him. He doesn’t back away from want he wants to say and that is something to be respected. Though Eminem hasn’t ever actually been arrested for domestic abuse (as far as my extensive Google research goes), he has written plenty of lyrics describing his hatred, aggression and even his desire to kill women (see 2000’s “Kim”). Eminem got some heavy criticism for how he portrayed women in his lyrics, several feminist groups even protested and boycotted his music. During his Anger Management Tour in 2000, he was almost banned from performing in Toronto due to a complaint filed to the Hate Crimes Unit of Toronto, claiming his lyrics were equivalent to a hate crime against women, as described by Canadian law. Eminem was actually interrogated prior to his entry, but no reason was found to disallow him from entering. I’m in no way defending his lyrics (they do get pretty graphic), but why has no one tried to stop Chris Brown from coming into the country? He was actually arrested for his hate crime towards a woman.

Eminem’s career has always been controversial, so it’s hard to tell how much of what he does actually affects his career. Some fans appreciate his honesty and can see a lot of what he says need not be taken seriously. Other music fans think he’s a bad influence. Why does it seem as though Chris Brown was easily forgiven by fans? He was recently praised for his performance on Dancing with the Stars. Is it because he’s just that amazing a dancer that it doesn’t really matter what he did?

At the end of the day, it comes down to where you as a fan and as an individual draw the line. It’s a matter of opinion. Why certain fans react one way to a given situation and other fans react in another way is a completely personal choice. It can be influenced by the nature of the action or even the musicians themselves. It seems however, as though the more well-liked and popular musicians seem to be criticized less harshly and I’m not sure why. What do they have to do with anything? Just because a musician is at the top of the charts, do we turn a blind eye to their misbehaviour as a person? Furthermore, when a talented musician is involved in a controversy, do we forgive them more easily, because they are so talented? Does that help us justify to ourselves why we continue to listen to their music, buy their albums, and see them live? Well it shouldn’t. But then again, who am I to judge?


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