COLUMN: Artists don’t have to be good people

It almost feels like a personal betrayal when an artist does something out of character. You think you have come to know them, their quirks and the style of music, but then they do something completely foreign to their personality.

Take Drake for example. He recently dropped More Life, a “playlist” that broke streaming records on Apple Music. But just last year, Drake was criticized for his diss on Kid Cudi’s mental health. Although Drake’s actions are disappointing, it wasn’t completely out of character.

The biggest example of a personality shift is about someone I love to bag on: Taylor Swift. For years, her music was that of a typical country artist. She sang about boys, love and the simple things in life. When she started to gain fans from the pop realm, her music changed into mainstream sound, and she dropped the Southern twang she used to sing with.

A surprisingly extensive Buzzfeed article detailed the trajectory of Swift’s rebranding as a feminist who is often on the unfortunate end of one bad relationship too many. This all came to a climax when it was revealed in a glorious Snapchat exposé that she lied about not knowing about the Kanye West lyrics that claim he made her famous, when in reality she heard the line from West before the song was even released.

While it may be shocking to some, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Swift plays victim in her music solely to sell records, and it’s not reflective of who she actually is as a person. She’s not anyone I’d want to be friends with -— that’s for sure. Even still, I’ll gladly listen to her music because she’s a great pop artist. I’m still going to blast “22” on my birthday, and I’ll still know the lyrics to “You Belong With Me” on my deathbed.

Even though she’s as fake as they come, she’s still going to sell records because at the end of the day, she’s really good at her job. And that’s what a lot of these artists who seem “fake” are doing: their job. There’s an endless debate of whether or not an artist sells out when they stop putting their personal life in their music and just start doing conventional things to sell music, but every artist has to have some type of personality in their music.

While artists could start out as people who wear their hearts on their sleeves when they make music, it’s likely that they could alter their public images in order to appeal to a wider audience to sell more records or because they feel like they need to change who they are as artists. However, some people don’t understand this concept and don’t accept change easily.

When Beyoncé’s Lemonade came out, she shook the foundation of her fan base. She not only raised the idea of her seemingly faithful husband, Jay-Z, stepping outside of their marriage (which isn’t true, if we’re keeping record), but she also embraced her blackness in a way that caused a lot of her fans to panic. They weren’t comfortable with Beyoncé being… well, a black artist. But nearly anyone with eyes can see that Beyoncé has always been a black artist, and that’s probably not going to change in the future.

The backlash was so ridiculous it was comical, and Saturday Night Live took advantage of it by making a skit that parodies some of her fans freaking out over something that shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.

Even still, people took Beyoncé’s change a little too seriously because they thought that someone they personally knew had done something to spite them. First of all, this isn’t true, since chances are, you don’t know Beyoncé like that. Secondly, it is ironic, since we do it all the time.

Do you act the same way at work as you do at home? OK, for those of you who work in super rad places like Facebook, maybe so, but my point is that we edit and shape ourselves to adapt to our situation. The “you” that is super cheerful and enthusiastic about everything at work might not be the same “you” that goes home every night and eats a tub of Ben & Jerry’s by yourself in sweats.

I know that I’m not the same when I write this column as I am in person. I put just enough of my personality in this column to be different from others and have a unique voice because that’s my job. Similarly, your favorite artist is putting enough of their personality in the record to be unique, and they could be completely different as a person.

Putting your favorite artist on a pedestal only sets you up for disappointment when they will inevitably let you down somehow. The artist and the person who invented that artist are two different people, and at the end of the day, that’s who artists really are: people, like you and me.

Spencer Lee is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column, “Spencer’s Soapbox,” runs every other Thursday.