I have loved Daniel Caesar ( https://www.instagram.com/danielcaesar/) for a few years now. Often featured in R’n’B’s “best artists” lists and with several awards to his name, it’s clear his music is held in high regard by more than just me. Last weekend I had the chance to see him live for the first time, but my feelings of excitement were dampened by a moral dilemma I had been grappling with since my friend and I bought the concert tickets in June. Here’s why:
Known to be one of the more reclusive musicians, Daniel is seldom involved in the controversy that other artists often find themselves in. This all changed earlier this year after an Instagram live session went awry. He took to his account and revealed (admittedly drunkenly) what he believed to be the solution to the racial injustice that Black people in America experience: “bridge the gap… and accept the winning team’s strategy.” As anticipated, his comments were met with backlash from several people, his fans (and me) included. Reducing the solution to the multifaceted systems embedded in our society that try to keep Black people disadvantaged to a simple “its in the past” and ‘just show love’ has an obvious appeal- it removes the onus of social justice, the pressure of having to improve society and its various systems*, from the people in power. If we can all just be kind enough to each other then we’ll all be fine; yes, people who benefit from these systems will be far better off than you, but at least we all love each other, right? Wrong.
And so, hours after his live session, Daniel was cancelled. His social media following dropped for a short while and he retreated into a few months of silence, then quietly released ‘Case Study 01’, his sophomore album.
As you can imagine, I was very conflicted. Here was a man who exposed his self-hating and unproductive solution to racial injustice, releasing more of the music that I have loved for years (did I mention that yet?). Album sales fell far below those of his previous album, indicating that the general public hadn’t quite forgotten about his notorious live-session. But it was only a matter of time before he regained most of his following on social media and was selling out tickets to his 2019 tour. So this begs the question- how effective really is cancel culture?
For many artists, it seems that cancellation alone doesn’t make a dent on their livelihoods. The artists themselves rarely ever seem to make any real effort to right their wrongs until their incomes and reputations can’t survive the damage. When considered from this angle, its efficiency is questionable. However, it is undeniably a powerful tool that creates public awareness about artists who have caused harm to people. But ultimately the effectiveness of cancel culture all comes down to what people choose to do with this awareness.
So back to me. With his comments, Daniel condemned the majority of his fanbase for their inability to move on from racism, reducing its (very real) effects to a moment in some distant past. But in my opinion, he did little more than revealing a flawed ideology. Daniel’s views and actions haven’t had any tangibly harmful effect on anyone but himself and his income.
Where do you draw the line that separates artists from their music? Though Daniel’s comments left him teetering on the edge of my line, I didn’t believe they were grounds for depriving myself of the chance to listen to him live. As long as you know what you will and won’t stand for (and more importantly that your views and actions don’t cause any harm to other people), you can stand firm in your beliefs. This isn’t to say you won’t be expected to be able to defend your reasons for supporting someone who has been cancelled but doesn’t spend more time than you have to try to explain your views to people who may not be receptive to them.
Moral dilemma assuaged, I went to the concert confident in my decision to watch one of my favourite artists perform some of my favourite songs live. And I’m glad I did.
*(educational, judicial for example)