I’ve been a Michael Jackson fan ever since I can remember. I know the ‘Thriller’ dance off by heart and my mother will tell you herself that I moonwalked out of her womb. Like any young, church-going black boy brought up in the ’90s — I was obsessed.

In 1998, R.Kelly had me not only believing I could fly but that I could also touch the sky too. Chris Brown had me dancing down high streets, trying to impress girls with the moves I’d learnt from ‘Yo (Excuse Me Miss)’. Pop and RnB shaped my growth, it was a constant that aided me through the trials and tribulations of puberty. In recent years, however, sinister allegations have been placed, and often substantiated, against my aforementioned idols. What are we to do then when we find out our heroes aren’t quite who we think they are? How easy is it to ignore the persistent allegations of those we once held in such high regard? It’s getting harder and harder to enjoy some of the art from my childhood. Can we ever truly separate the art from the artiste?

Problematic celebrities aren’t going away anytime soon. On June 18, 2018, rapper XXX Tentacion was shot and killed in his home state of Florida. Before his death, Xs career was plagued with controversy. Despite being jailed on seven felony charges, ranging from witness tampering to domestic assault, his second studio album ‘?‘ still debuted at number one on the Billboard US chart, and found itself ranking top three in 15 other countries. How is a feat like this possible? There are numerous interviews and admissions, even video evidence of abuse, yet is posthumously treated like a demigod amongst his global fanbase. Amidst the cancel culture epidemic and the development of technology, the buffer between an artistes’ public and private life ever thins.

For me, the severity of the crime dictates my emotional response. It’s almost like a sick game of Top Trumps — R Kelly‘s extensive sexual misconduct charges would blow a meagre Lil Wayne gun faux pas out of the water. I can still listen to 50 Cent knowing that he’s put multiple holes in enemies but shiver when hearing the tales and testimonies of the closed doors at Neverland. HBO’s controversial two-part documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ follows the stories and confessions of two young boys who claim to be victims of sexual assault at the hands of Michael Jackson. One of these, a young Aussie dancer named Wade Robson would later become a prominent figure in my childhood. Building a career becoming a successful choreographer and playing the antagonist in the dance cult classic – You Got Served.

A young Wade Robson with Michael Jackson | Image Source: Amos Pictures / HBO

James Safechuck and Wade Robson initially both testify that they were not abused by Jackson “Without flinching, without batting an eyelash, my answer was no, no way. Absolutely not. ‘Did he ever touch you here? Did he ever show you pornography?’ All of those sorts of questions. Over and over again, without flinching, my answer was no, absolutely not, never.” Wade remarks. Statements as such only add to the controversy; however reading into the gifts, bribes, and cases thrown out of court is enough to make your head explode.

Michael Jackson defying gravity in ‘Smooth Criminal’ Image source: Youtube

A battle in my inner psyche rages on every time ‘Smooth Criminal’ shuffles into one of my Spotify playlists, should I be listening to this man?  I remind myself that no convictions have been dealt as of yet, but there’s still something about the numerous allegations and the harrowing documentary that continue to cloud the ever-murky case.

“When shit hits the fan is you still a fan? That n*gga gave us Billie Jean you say he touched those kids? When shit hits the fan is you still a fan?” – Kendrick Lamar, ‘Mortal Man’

Can an individual’s’ good actions outweigh the negative? Kendrick Lamar questions moral absolutism on his track ‘Mortal Man’ – the belief that people are wholly virtuous or wicked based on a certain deed. If the allegations are true, can we deny the positive impact Michael made on a generation? We are all only ‘Mortal Men’, as the track title states, we’re only human, all sinners capable of making mistakes, but for forgiveness to be granted, admissions of guilt and repentance must be sought. 

It’s appearing harder and harder to hold celebrities accountable for their shitty actions. Justin Bieber, arguably the biggest pop star on the entire planet recently flaunted his newfound arithmetic skills, sparking further debate on social media.

The comments still pour in thick and fast, despite the post being over a week old. “Imagine supporting an abuser, wow” writes one user. “D.E.L.E.T.E and apologise” barks another. To me, this is an incredibly irresponsible use of a platform, one of the biggest influencers on the planet almost endorsing the work of an abuser. It’s also very, very incorrect. To even suggest that two of the greatest recording artists to ever exist, added together, equal a breakdancer who releases the same three, regurgitated, quasi-pop songs every year should be enough to get your Instagram account banned.

I remain as confused as ever, my quest for truth has thrown up more questions than I initially began with. I can’t eradicate the nostalgia some of these problematic artists have created for me — nor do I want to.

Art does not know the concept of good or bad, it purely exists. So, the next time you think about playing the remix to ‘Ignition’ (has anybody ever heard the original?) enjoy the infectious hook, reminisce of your school disco but maybe download it illegally so you aren’t supporting R.Kelly’s ongoing legal battle. Play the ‘Thriller’ album in its entirety, it’s a classic, but maybe just play it through your earphones. Great art should still be appreciated, no matter who the artiste — just be conscious of those around before you indulge.