Switched on Pop is “[a] podcast about the making and meaning of popular music hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding. [They] break down pop songs to figure out what makes a hit and what is its place in culture.”
On Switched on Pop’s episode “When Good Music Happens To Bad People”, hosts Charlie Harding and Nate Sloan discuss morality in pop music. Is a work inherently bad because its creator has committed immoral acts or holds immoral beliefs? Are we bad people if we continue consuming these artists’ works? Can artists as people be separated from their work? Is talent greater than morals?
As the hosts’ Wagner example shows, such issues of morality in art are far from new. But questions like these seem more relevant now than they have in years, with the Ghomeshi and Cosby scandals, Amber Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse against Johnny Depp, and the backlash against Calgary post-punk band Viet Cong’s name; in Viet Cong’s case, many commentators drew analogies to Joy Division, Gang of Four, and Dead Kennedys, reigniting decades-old criticisms of each of these groups. (Viet Cong eventually yielded to mounting pressure and renamed themselves as the unfortunately underwhelming, totally non-descript “Preoccupations.”) Even David Bowie, icon among icons, was not invincible to interrogations of his sexual conduct stemming from incidents that occurred nearly 50 years ago. Pieces like this Jezebel article (re-)surfaced shortly after his death, at the height of global outpourings of love, nostalgia, and tears for the Starman.
I remain a fan of Bowie’s and Joy Division’s music. (I’ve never held much personal stake in the other names.) But admittedly, it’s difficult to disagree with Harding & Sloan’s position that as harmless as enjoying a work in private may seem, you are still perpetuating the suspect artist’s legacy; their legacy is still living, through you. As long as this particular debate about morality in music rages, I’ll continue chewing on the matter.