Music

The Strange Grief Of Having To Let Go Of Your Favourite Artist

We should allow ourselves the space and time to feel sad; to know that something is different now, and always will be.

kanye west jk rowling photo

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Kanye West released an interview in which he spruiked Trump, and called Planned Parenthood a white supremacist organisation sent by the devil. For his fans, it was akin to being kicked when you’re already very, very down.

After all, longtime Kanye defenders have suddenly found themselves saddled with a whole different side of the man to account for, and many of us had only just gotten used to having to somehow explain his Trump support.

Now, watching the genius behind Late Registration and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy endorse policies that are even further right than the already very right-wing American President, the game of accounting for the unaccountable has begun anew.

Many aren’t interested in playing anymore. It is clear that a great deal of the criticisms that have dogged Kanye his whole career — that he never thinks things through; that he can only ever conceive of himself as hard done by, despite his riches; that he is reactionary and cruel — are, and always have been true. What’s there even to say. The man is doing the work of discrediting his legacy single-handedly.

Which is a whole part of the problem not just with Kanye, but with that other once-beloved celebrity going through a heel turn, J.K. Rowling.

It’s not just that both are very rich, powerful people using their influence to hurt society’s most disenfranchised people. It’s that their doing so reveals how out of touch they always were; how much their decency was perhaps just an act.

Rowling’s anti-science statements are horrifyingly comprehensible in terms of much of what goes on throughout her franchise — the underwritten character Cho Chang, the anti-semitic stereotypes of goblin bankers that crop up throughout the Harry Potter books. Kanye’s braggadacio, ego and singular emphasis on himself at the expense of all others is what makes a giddy vanity project like Yeezus quite so fascinating.

To that end, these aren’t sudden shifts in character. They are revelations of that old and oft-touted adage that rich people, whether they’re creatives or not, are not your friends.

Rowling and Kanye haven’t lived in the world that the rest of us occupy for many decades now. Both have been sheltered from real world consequences, their worst impulses promoted and caressed by people who will never say no to them. They won’t change because they have simply no reason to.

So what do you do? Hordes of people left to reconsider their Harry Potter tattoos might have become meme fodder, but losing artists to themselves can be genuinely sad. Of course even the most fervent Kanye fans don’t actually know Kanye; Harry Potter stans have only ever encountered the most agreeable part of Rowling.

Both fanbases only get to see the side of their creators that said creators choose to exhibit. We are not losing Kanye the way you lose touch with a friend, or, God forbid, lose a deceased family member. We never really had hold of Kanye or Rowling in the first place. They were selling us a product. That’s all.

But that makes it more sad, not less so. Artists matter so much to us precisely because through their work, we get the best parts of humanity. That’s why so many have been lifted out of depression by Late Registration; given purpose by Harry Potter. 

These things are bigger and greater than any fallible human can be. Works of art are themselves static, even if their creators are not, incapable of evolving or updating in unpleasant ways. And they are aspirational, proof that we can make works that radiate kindness, and integrity, and artistic vision.

It’s always possible that either Rowling or Kanye will change their beliefs.

Discovering that the people who made such works are just that — people — is not shocking, of course. It’s just upsetting. I think that we can separate artists from their art to a certain extent — understand that unkind people can make kind work; that very good and empathetic human beings sometimes release shitty and shallow art.

But ‘Black Skinhead’ doesn’t exist without Kanye. It is tied to him, and the way he sees the world. So when he says some dumbass stuff, the work is hurt. The closeness created and fostered by art, that sense of connection you feel when a record or a book or a film clicks with you, curdles somewhat.

It’s always possible that either Rowling or Kanye will change their beliefs. More likely the latter than the former, to be honest. After all, Kanye is always in the process of updating and revising his worldview, exactly like he is always in the process of updating and revising his albums. It’s always possible that in a few years, he’ll call the whole thing a troll, or a joke, or an elaborate stunt.

But so what? The damage has been done. Fans of comic book artist Frank Miller, the man behind Sin City, know that it doesn’t matter if your favourites eventually iron out their more misguided views.

Miller eventually apologised for the virulent racism he spewed immediately after 9/11, claiming he was going through a rough time. Some forgave him. Others didn’t. But even those who did take him back into their hearts knew that the relationship had changed, somewhat; that things were trickier now, and more painful.

What needs to be done, then, is accepting that we do have to go through something like grief. Whether you want to listen to Kanye ever again — whether you feel up to forgiving him — is entirely a personal choice. But before we can embark on those kinds of choices, we need to accept that things have changed.

That’s what it means to grieve; to understand and accept that some things will never go back to the way they were before.

That’s what it means to grieve; to understand and accept that some things will never go back to the way they were before.

That will sound portentous and over-the-top to some. But that’s the thing. The reason why so many of us are averse to grieving in this situation is because it feels silly to use that word in the context of the strange relationship we have to artists.

We are their consumers, not their friends. But through their art, they come to matter to us greatly. We should accept that. And when we lose an artist to themselves, we should allow ourselves the space and time to feel sad; to know that something is different now, and always will be.


Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.