Opinion #4 - Why Does Good Music Happen To Bad People?

by Tom Barr

This week, footballer, Luis Suarez, was crowned the Player Of The Year. He actually has two awards - one from football journalists, and one voted for by his fellow players. Its fair to say that everyone thinks he’s very good at football. Everyone also thinks he is a massive knob-cheese. He feigns injury, dives, play-acts, and pretty much acts like a complete bell all of the time. He has two (yes, two counts of biting (yes, biting!); an opponent whilst on the field. Much less funny was the eight-match ban Mr. Suarez received for racially abusing opposition player, Patrice Evra. Mr. Suarez has remained completely unrepentant and to this day claims to have been the victim of a conspiracy. As I said, massive bell.

(If you don’t like football then I’m sorry for this first bit. It may seem completely irrelevant to music and that’s because it is. Don’t worry. I am about to segue seamlessly into something you might find interesting.)

The Mr. Suarez example shows how an industry can unanimously disapprove of an individual’s personality and yet reward their work. I found this fairly interesting, as I honestly can’t decide if it’s a good thing or not. Surely the work should speak for itself. Maybe we should be applauding football for recognising the outstanding performance of an individual regardless of his personal shortcomings. On the other hand, maybe being an unapologetic bitey racist should factor into how much status and adoration we give someone. It really seems like it should.

Of course there are plenty of parallels in the music industry.

I may not know much about music but I’ve heard of a certain Mr. Chris Brown. I know that he was arrested in 2009 for beating his then girlfriend, Rihanna. Despite this, he continues to have albums produced, perform at high profile music awards, and sell-out large venues for his live performances - most of which are attended by women. I am struggling to understand the psychology behind those women that are still fans of this man. I know that, and I use the term extremely loosely, ‘rock stars’ have always had a sense of rebelliousness and a “screw you” attitude. This is a huge selling point for fans. What the musician represents can be as, if not more, important than the individual’s skill as a musician. Chris Brown obviously represents something I’m not in tune with, but can his past actions really be of so little significance to these people?

The easiest and most morally dubious of responses to this question is that his fans like his musical persona more than they disapprove of his actions. In a straight up evaluation of his strengths as a musician and weaknesses as a human being, the scales dip in favour of his music. This is disappointing, but I think it hits the nail on the head. Given the choice of disavowing him due to his unacceptable actions or rationalising his actions as ‘misunderstood’, these people have gone for the latter.

In a variant on the old cliche, there are two kinds of arsehole in the world, the arseholes who happen to be famous and people who are famous because they are arseholes.

There are the wind-up merchants. Those whose main career goal is to be so unremittingly twat-ish that people can’t help but engage with them to display their anger. Jeremy Clarkson is their king. At the moment he is in the middle of another unfortunate race row. You’d think after the first ten he’d learn to keep quiet - it’s almost like he’s doing it for attention. Top Gear is one of the most widely watched shows on the planet and he is a huge part of that success. He is clearly a good broadcaster, it can’t be all down to expensive cars and casual racism. But he wouldn’t be nearly as successful if he didn’t cause these outrages from time to time. That’s why the BBC couldn’t fire him. Firing Clarkson for a bit of casual racism is like buying a bullmastif, a dog designed to inflict huge amounts of damage on anything that moves, then putting it down when it bites you in the nuts.

On the other hand you get your garden variety talented arseholes. Your Liam Gallaghers. Your Alex Turners. Your Luis Suarezes. They are the most frustrating individuals because you have the constant sense that you could actually enjoy the stuff they produce if they just stopped acting like colossal bells. You may not like the aforementioned dicks but everybody has a person they stare at pensively and mutter under their breath “if only…”. These are in the Chris Brown camp of moral dubiousness. I’m not saying that Alex Turner is as bad as Chris Brown, generally being an arsehole isn’t actually a crime. The world’s criminal system would crumble in a day if that were the case. I’m saying that we all make excuses for artists we like. We make the same value judgement that the Chris Brown fans do.

Those of you that watch Question Time will have heard the applause bait of a question, making the point that “nurses should get paid as much as [a highly paid group of people, generally footballers or film stars]”. What the person is trying to say is that most of us who don’t describe ourselves as pure free-market capitalists have the general feeling that important, hard jobs such as nursing should be paid a higher fee than something frivolous, such as playing football or acting. What these people seem to forget is that we live in a world where what you are paid is decided by the market value of your skill, not by the intrinsic value of that skill. Footballers and actors get paid as much as they do because large amounts of people are willing to pay to watch them do their thing. I’m not defending the way things are, but I’m saying that you cant just say “nurses should be paid as much as footballers” and not understand the monumental reorganisation of society that you’re asking for.

With evaluation, no one sat around and decided that elephants should have big ears and a trunk, or that giraffes should have long necks. It was the result of millions of years of an unconscious, unthinking process which had no intention to give giraffes long necks. This is how it is with celebrities’ place in society. No one came up with the idea that musicians should be among the most respected and adored in society. They are there because of the millions of people who buy their albums, buy tickets to their live shows, and watch them on TV. Consumers don’t actively endorse the privileged status and earning power of the musicians when they buy their records. It’s a tacit endorsement.

So when people of decidedly shit moral worth find their way into fame and fortune there is no point in complaining about the state of affairs. If you want to change the outcome you need to change the process. If you don’t think that a person should be enjoying their privilege because of their moral deficiencies, then don’t buy their records. Or start a revolution.