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That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

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Christina Quarles - Let Us In Too (Tha Light), 2018. (Acrylic on Canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 cm Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias, London and Regen Projects, Los Angeles)

We invest so much in musicians. Not just our time and money, but also a bit of ourselves.

We use their music to help define us. That's why when someone asks who your favourite artist is you put a lot of thought into it, knowing that your response will give others an insight into your personality and attitudes. So how do you respond when your favourite artist has become a bigot or an abuser? How does that reflect on you and what assumptions will it lead people to make about your values?

Musicians are often excused of so much. Phrases like 'troubled genius' allow us to write off an artist's indiscretions as part of their creative process, but this often leads to us ignoring the fact that our favourite creative people sometimes do inexcusable things.

Take Morrissey for example: a once charming man, now a boy with a thorn in his side. Fans have been keen to defend him for years. As far back as the nineties the warning signs were there, as he told the NME in an infamous interview that England had lost its identity. Over time his remarks have become even less subtle, with him eventually flaunting a For Britain badge, a far-right party founded on anti-Islamic sentiment and criticised by Nigel Farage as a group of "Nazis and racists".

When, as a fan, you see evidence that your favourite artist has become a bad person, it causes a lot of grief. This grief needs to be properly processed and it's important to move through the three stages rather than permanently linger in the first.

So many brilliant musicians are amateur human beings

The denial stage is best characterised by weak justifications, straw-clutching and a reluctance to acknowledge any valid criticism of the artist. It also involves the avoidance of facts and the use of extreme mental gymnastics to refrain from reaching the conclusion that the artist may not be a good person.

If you ever manage to move on from this denial you'll likely reach bargaining. You accept that the artist in question has become a bad person but you'll desperately look for excuses not to criticise them. You know you're in this stage if you repeatedly use the phrase 'troubled genius'. The only way to deal with this is to come to realise that society's willingness to indulge the artist was what emboldened them to become such a horror in the first place, putting them in a rarefied atmosphere where they believe they can speak and act without consequence. If you come to this realisation, you might finally move into the final stage: acceptance.

This doesn't mean you should stop listening to the music. For your own good, differentiate between the person and the artist. After all, so many brilliant musicians are amateur human beings. This is sometimes easy as in the case of Morrissey, where so many of his early songs spoke of kindness and tenderness rather than hate.

By accepting the situation you can avoid regressing into the previous stages of grief, where you tacitly justify the artist's dubious nature to allow yourself to continue listening to the music.

Just remember that beautiful work never justifies hateful words.

Josh Bolton


Sheffield's Tramlines Festival has announced its 2020 lineup. Taking place at Hillsborough Park in July, it will feature headliners Ian Brown, Catfish and the Bottlemen and Madness. Organisers have also announced day tickets to the festival for the first time this year. Weekend tickets are currently £99.

The Crucible's acclaimed musical Standing at the Sky's Edge is set to return this year. The show, which is set in Sheffield's Park Hill flats, will run at the Crucible before transferring to London's National Theatre.

A dormant Sheffield studio has begun making music again after being refurbished by volunteers. SADACCA Studios on The Wicker has been made into a community music space and venue after it had been unused for over a decade.

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