The art and the artist
“Separate the art from the artist”. I have heard that phrase a handful of times, and every time I have strongly agreed. Of course we should separate the art from the artist- regardless of what someone does in their personal life, as long as they are putting out great music, shouldn’t we appreciate their talent? So many musicians go through tough times and internal struggles - it can’t be easy having the spotlight on you all the time, and that should probably be taken into account when we think about their actions.
This is why I have been able to enjoy Justin Bieber’s music over the years. While nodding my head along to Sorry or What Do You Mean, I tried valiantly to ignore reports about him being rude to his fans, performing live with all the energy of a deflated balloon, or even stopping live performances mid-way because something or the other annoyed him. After all, while they might not be the pinnacle of great pop music, his songs are usually enjoyable, his voice sounds great, and Bieber is a young pop celebrity with lots of pressure on him.
Then, unfortunately, I came across something I couldn’t ignore.
A video has been doing rounds on social media recently- recorded in a club somewhere in New York, the video features a very drunk Bieber attempting to sing his latest single which has been topping the charts for the past few weeks, Despacito. ‘Attempting’ is probably too strong a word though. Bieber sings the title word, and then goes on to shriek “I don’t know the words so I say poquito, I don’t know the words so I say Dorito” for a while, before yelling over the original singers with “blablablabla”.
There is no way I could separate the art from the artist here - this is his art. Of course, I wasn’t expecting Bieber to have learnt all the Spanish lyrics overnight, but at the very least, I was hoping he would know his portion of the song, which people gleefully reported as “Bieber’s first time singing in Spanish” a few months ago. He may have been drunk, but the utter disrespect towards the track struck me hard. How could he be so disconnected from a song he is an active member in? Doesn’t he have any interest in the music he creates?
I’m singling out Bieber here as a result of this video, but to be honest, he is just a more prominent example of what so many pop artists have become. Forget the audience separating the art from the artists - the artists themselves are now strongly detached from their art. A while back, a musician’s work was centred around him; he was the one creating a song from scratch. In the 21st century, a single is rarely, if ever, the effort of the artist alone - we have one or two (or in the case of Cold Water, nine) lyricists which may not even include the singer, multiple composers, a handful of producers, and finally, the singer himself who records the track before it is tweaked and polished by technology. How can the artist connect to his “own” music? He is just another tool to help create a hopeful chart-topper.
People like Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj are more icons than musicians now, and most successful pop artists seem to treat their music as if it’s a corporation they grudgingly run, and not something they work at with passion. Live performances have become more about the costumes, backdrops and lighting than the music itself, and several artists have been spotted lip-synching while dancing around onstage for most of their show. Is anything really about the music anymore?
I know I’m harshly generalising here - pop music isn’t all bad and composed without passion, and there are still many artists out there who love what they do, and take a lot of effort to compose their own music. But for now, I must go delete Bieber’s version of Despacito from my playlist…