Separating art from the artist: BYU students weigh in on celebrity cancellations, reconsider support

A man listens to music through headphones. Celebrities being branded as “canceled” has become common in recent years, but how this label affects their careers can be unpredictable. (Elliott Miller)

Celebrities branded as “canceled” have become common in recent years, but how this label affects their careers can be unpredictable.

Ye, who legally changed his name from Kanye West, came into the spotlight during 2022 antisemitic comments he made publicly. Shortly after his remarks, Adidas and Gap ended their partnership with Ye, halving his net worth from more than a billion dollars to around $500 million. BYU also ended the use of Ye’s song “Power” for their sporting events.

Despite backlash and condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League, The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Republican National Committee, Ye’s music still has 53 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

In 2018, YouTuber Logan Paul recorded a suicide victim in Japan and posted it to his millions of fans. After leaving the spotlight under scrutiny, Paul returned with a successful podcast, boxing career and sports drinks company.

Director Roman Polanski’s won the Best Director award in the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 for his film “The Pianist,” despite sexual assault allegations.

However, other celebrities and companies have taken large hits to their brand. In February, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams was criticized for his comments on the Black community in his YouTube live stream. Dilbert cartoons were pulled from most of the nation’s newspapers.

This begs the question, what can celebrities come back from and what can they not?

As West’s music continues to be streamed, many fans who take issue with Ye’s actions have to reckon with the disappointment they have in West, and their love for his work.

Joshua Michaelson is a pre-business major and music artist at BYU. Michaelson shared insight into his evolving opinion on Ye.

Michaelson explains why he grew to like West and how he separates the art from the artist. West has been accused of antisemitic comments. (Joel Leighton)

“When Kanye came out with his Jesus is King album and started waking up a little bit to the point where he was speaking out against the Hollywood mainstream narrative and going more politically conservative … I was like, ‘this guy’s kind of cool,'” Michaelson said.

However, Michaelson said West’s political direction in 2022 hurt his opinion on the rapper. According to Michaelson, many individuals already separate the art from the artist.

“We do that already with so many other artists. There’s definitely tons of rumors about people like Elvis, or even Led Zepplin,” he said.

Michaelson believes this can be done because, oftentimes, the meaning in the art does not represent the actions of the creator.

Michaelson believes the reason he can still enjoy “Jesus is King” and other albums despite Ye’s current direction is that his previous work does not reflect his current beliefs. Art like Jesus is King, a Christian-focused album, is “on a different wavelength” and can still be enjoyed because it represents something else, according to Michaelson.

BYU wildlife conservation major Hunter Coleman was particularly hurt by West’s comments and has chosen to entirely cut out West’s music.

“I know a lot of the crazy stuff he says is usually because he’s off his meds, but his recent Nazi stuff is just a bit far. There’s being tactically controversial, and then there’s just blatant antisemitism,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he has not listened to Ye’s music since his appearance on the Alex Jones show.

“For a while, I couldn’t listen to his music because it just bummed me out. All I could think was about the recent conspiracy stuff, him acting psychotic during his divorce and … mentally degrading,” Coleman said.

Porter Olson, international relations major at BYU, believes both the status of the celebrity and the value of their work are the biggest factors behind success after cancellation.

“Some celebrities just have a big enough following, they’re at a point where no publicity is bad publicity. Their actions may be awful, but their works are still awesome and so people tune out the awful stuff they did. I think it’s too separate things,” Olson said.

While there are enough fans who can enjoy the work of controversial artists and can separate what the work represents, or are entirely unphased by the controversies, celebrities will make comebacks.

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