The Humanist Dilemma: Should We Stop Listening to Music By Bad Players—And Those Who Play With Them?

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Musically Confused:  Over the weekend, I had the Spotify playlist of an artist I enjoy playing on shuffle. This artist tends to have a lot of humanist-esque songs, including one about climate change, and tends to take similar positions as myself on political questions of the day. As I was tidying my apartment, a collaboration I hadn’t heard before came on. When I checked who the other artist was, I was surprised to see that it was Chris Brown–who has long been accused of violence against women. The song came out in March 2018, long after these accusations were made public. In addition to that, the artist I like released his debut album in 2015, and had a few hit songs prior to this collaboration. I don’t listen to Chris Brown due to the many accusations against him. I’m wondering if I should now also stop listening to this artist I really enjoy. I’m so surprised by his decision to collaborate with Chris Brown, and I’m wondering if he was pushed to do this by his record label. Does that matter?

Playlist or Blacklist


Dear Playlist,

Short answer: If you don’t like Chris Brown because of what he signifies to you, you shouldn’t listen to him. And whether that extends to anyone who works with him is for you to decide.

Longer Answer: Although Brown has been credibly accused of disturbing misconduct over and over again, you’re not aware of any reason to reject the other artist except for his musical collaboration with Brown. So, although I empathize with your aversion to Brown, I’m wondering how far you’d extend your censorship. Will you disassociate from other players in a production (e.g., backup singers/musicians, composers, record labels) who work with artists you disapprove of? Is this for life, or is there any statute of limitations in terms of time or degrees of separation of collaborators? An even bigger question: Is there no possible redemption or forgiveness when artists behave badly, especially if they confess and apologize?

While I’m more inclined to separate the art from the artist, it sounds like that’s not an option for you. As for the collaborator, you could try contacting him through his publicist to ask if he was at all conflicted about working with someone who is a known abuser of women. You could also try to keep listening to his music aside from the Chris Brown collaboration. If you find you’re not enjoying it, then I think your conscience has spoken.

Something else you might consider as perhaps a more effective way to address Brown’s transgressions would be volunteering at a women’s crisis center and listening to their stories while not listening to Chris Brown.