While many celebrities expressed their support for the reprisal of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that swept the nation last summer, one artist’s reaction to the protests struck me with surprise. In late May, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, The 1975’s lead singer Matty Healy took to Twitter and posted: “If you truly believe that ‘ALL LIVES MATTER’ you need to stop facilitating the end of black ones”. While the tweet seems to place him firmly on the same side as any other BLM supporter, fans and critics were still upset about his tweet.
At the end of Healy’s tweet, he included a link to his band’s song, Love It If We Made It. The song was released two years before the BLM protests, in July 2018, as a single from The 1975’s third studio album. The interesting part of this controversy is that the subject matter of Love It If We Made It comments on the injustices that the BIPOC community faces and renounces the modern world we live in. Lyrics like, “Selling melanin and then suffocate the black men” and, “The poetry is in the streets” within the verses of the song strongly support the BLM movement and call out the discriminatory practices of police brutality almost exactly two years before this summer’s nationwide protests. The song was in alignment with the values of the BLM movement and was meant to be a call to action with the main chorus stating: “Modernity has failed us / And I’d love it if we made it.” Throughout the song, the idea that our modern world does not have the well-being of the individual in its best interest becomes very clear. If the content of the song was not a problem, then how could fans be so critical of Healy’s tweet?
Most fans were disappointed that Healy would appear to be promoting his music during a time meant to uplift, support, and fight for people of color. It seemed as though the tweet would be well accepted, if not praised had Healy not included a link to his song. While it is easy for interpretations to be twisted on Twitter and intentions overlooked, most critics completely neglected the bulk of the tweet that was in support of their cause. The focus of the controversy quickly, and easily became the misuse of a national movement to promote an already-successful white man’s music–a topic that would be upsetting if the white man had completely ignored the purpose of the movement in the first place. It seems as though the social justice warriors of Twitter took offense to this tweet without taking a look at the artist’s point of view. Although the tweet might not have been the most harmful to the BIPOC community, the controversy of the event took the spotlight away from the values of the BLM movement and acted to divide a community that was assumed to be fighting on the same side.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of this Twitter scandal was how Healy dealt with the backlash from his fans. After being called out for using this social justice movement for profit by promoting his music, Healy responded with another tweet that read, “Sorry I did not link my song in that tweet to make it about me it’s just that the song is literally about this disgusting situation and speaks more eloquently than I can on Twitter.” While this tweet seemed as though it could defuse the situation and relay the message that Healy was eager to comment on the protests but could not find the best way to phrase his emotions, his following actions infuriated Twitter-users even more. After posting his apology tweet, Healy reposted his original tweet, including the link to his song, and then proceeded to deactivate his Twitter account. This action translated to fans that Healy was not sincerely sorry for his impulsive behavior and had learned nothing from this interaction.
The entire event comments largely on cancel culture and the idea that an artist’s values and actions should be separated from their work. In this case, the artist himself stated that he could not have phrased his own beliefs and emotions any better than he had through his artwork. How can our society think to separate an artist from their work when they are actively using their work to speak for them? Furthermore, the interaction on Twitter sparked an interesting perspective on cancel culture. In this specific case, an artist used their platform to express their support for the BLM movement and speak out against opponents but was still criticized by his supporters and BLM activists for taking the spotlight away from people of color. This interaction showcases the problem with separating an artist from their work because it is often used as an outlet for their beliefs and the art they want to see in the world.