Staff Editorial 2/15 Judgement should be based on an individual’s merit not their sob story
At the 60th annual Grammy Awards, Ed Sheeran was awarded Best Pop Solo Performance for the popular Shape of You. Sheeran was the only male among four female nominees in the category, including Kesha.
For the last couple of years, Kesha had been fighting her ex-manager, Dr. Luke, in court after a vicious fall-out, which ended with the singer accusing him of “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally” abusing her. Unsurprisingly, fans and critics alike rallied to her side and praised her strength and grace in handling the situation. #FreeKesha was born. The Grammy nomination was for her critically acclaimed song Praying, which was allegedly composed in response to this experience.
Then, Ed Sheeran won.
Social-media chronicled the uproar from age-old fans, supporters of Me Too, and even first-time Kesha listeners. People were appalled that a song about the shape of woman’s body could possibly have won over a culturally-relevant and touching song like Praying. It was almost as though Dr. Luke himself had won.
However, Praying entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 25, selling a total of about 45,000 copies. Shape of You, on the other hand, debuted the Hot 100 in the number one slot, selling 240,000 copies in its first week alone. Despite the fact that Sheeran’s song was clearly more popular, the overwhelming opinion seemed to be that he did not deserve to win. He is a man, his song is superficial, and so on and so forth. Kesha on the other hand, went through a tragic ordeal. The song is proof of that. She should have won.
People were not able to separate the person from their work. We are seeing this more and more today. Comedian Aziz Ansari was one of the latest to be accused of sexual misconduct and the reactions were varied. Largely though, in a turn that was surprising for the Me Too movement, people sided with Ansari. They said his accuser was trivializing everything that Me Too stood for. They said what she was describing was a bad date, not sexual assault.
On the other hand, you have Louis C.K. Once a veteran SNL host and much loved comedian, Louis C.K was accused by five women of similar conduct. He was punished. As were Academy Award-winning actors Kevin Spacey and James Franco. Now, all these names are (rightly) synonymous with sexual abuse. And so are their works.
No longer can people watch House of Cards without thinking about the trainwreck that was the Kevin Spacey controversy. So, they don’t. But the fact is, House of Cards is a critically acclaimed, Emmy winning series. With or without Spacey.
When it comes to the soap-opera that is the life of a celebrity or prominent public figure who has committed some socially unacceptable transgression (especially in the wake of Me Too), observers tend to have one of three reactions. Some, mostly die-hard fans of the accused, embody the mentality of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Others recoil simply at the words ‘sexual abuse’ and refuse to look beyond the allegation. Then, there are those who, however disgusted the may be by a figure’s personal actions, refuse to let it color their opinion of that person’s work.
Kesha deserves a round of applause for her activism and vocality in empowering women and fighting for the equality and respect of all people. She deserves sympathy and praise for how she dealt with adversity. But that doesn’t mean she deserves a Grammy.
The life and experiences of a public figure should have no bearing on how that person’s work has been perceived. Louis C.K.’s sexual misconduct should not mean that we shun his work any more than Kesha’s struggles should mean that we automatically award hers. This goes beyond sexual assault, too. We may not agree with or like the figure’s beliefs and life choices. But when it comes to entertainment, we should be able to look at a person’s work objectively, regardless of how we feel about the individual personally.