Weekly survey: When it comes to bad rock star behavior, are you able to separate the artist from the art?

I was out for a walk the other day when an Arcade Fire fan came up to me. “I’ve loved this band forever,” he said. “My wife and I have tickets to a show but after what we heard about Win Butler and those women, we don’t know what to do. Should we go to the show? Or would the right thing be to boycott the gig? More than that, should we even listen to the band’s music anymore?”

Complex stuff that requires a lot of research and soul-searching. The best I could offer was “Can you separate the artist from the art? If you can, enjoy the music for what it is. If you can’t, then you already know what you’ve got to do.”

With the rise of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and social media, bad behavior by rock stars is increasingly (and finally) being called out and exposed. Not all such behavior is the same, of course. In the eyes of the law, a stolen kiss or an unwanted hug is different from a violent sexual assault. But our social media world, however, makes it difficult to draw a distinction when it comes to handing out appropriate sentences and punishments. If there’s the slightest hint that someone has done something, anything bad–even uncorroborated anonymous online allegations–it seems that the only solution is total cancelation of that artist.

We can debate that question of fairness and due process another time. Right now, though, I’m interested in if you’re able to separate the musician from the music they make. Can you still enjoy the music while knowing that the person(s) who made it may have done something wrong?

Arcade Fire fans aren’t the only ones dealing with this conundrum. Michael Jackson fans have made it clear that they will continue to enjoy his music despite all those allegations involving children. Marilyn Manson is facing some serious charges in LA, but should that mean fans can’t enjoy blasting “The Beautiful People” in the car? And what about all those legendary stars who are said to have done awful things with groupies back in the day?

Once you start picking at this scab, the moral and philosophical issues explode–UNLESS you’re able to keep the music and the musician separate. My question is, can you?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37816 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

3 thoughts on “Weekly survey: When it comes to bad rock star behavior, are you able to separate the artist from the art?

  • Not usually, not. I do my best to stay away from that kind of news nowadays and I most definitely do my best to not fangirl out on bands /artists/authors like I did when I was younger. But as in all things in my life, I have my lines that I won’t cross. I’m a big believer in boycotting. I put my money where my mouth is and while there are some multinational death corps that I unwillingly support in the name of frugality, I try to keep it to a minimum. I also try not to be a hypocrite. But yeah, there are artists that I boycott for their behavior, whose shows I won’t see or music I won’t purchase, etc. I don’t buy into the words that people use nowadays for it. I boycott companies that give to right wing whackadoodles. I boycott people who don’t believe in freedom of speech. My belief system doesn’t and/or hasn’t changed on a whim or flights of fancy. I pretty much am who I am at this point in my life. I am still boycotting the same things I boycotted at 17. I am still against the multinational death corps like I was at 17. There are a few more of the evil empires to fight against nowadays. There are a lot more privacy and security rights to fight for nowadays. But those are other topics… but yeah, I do find it hard to separate the artist from the art. But I don’t find it hard to make that CHOICE. There are shades of grey and with enough thoughfulness and reasoned thinking, decent choices can be made that aren’t putting people in boxes or being overly judgmental.

    I try and support the things that sustain me – music, the arts, authors, derby and theatre and comedians and restaurants. My people; whether they know it or not.

    I know that some of my money supports behavior that I wouldn’t approve or if it were around me and I know that some of my money is supporting people who don’t need it (which pisses me off when I think about it but I try not to). But, my lot in life is to support that scene. So I do wholeheartedly because *IT* supports me. Without it, I would not be alive. Because…..well, without all of it, life truly would be a mistake.


  • I can separate the artist from the art. That’s not really the issue for me.

    The issue is that I don’t want to give the artist my money.

  • For example, I still listen to Bruce Springsteen even though he’s clearly a sycophant for the Democrat party. He is so crass and tone-deaf these days. But I still love his music. As for Arcade Fire, I wasn’t there. Has the dude has his day in court?


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