We May Buy Their Art, But We Don't Own Artists

From Kanye to Chance to Yelawolf, a rash of tour cancellations makes us consider what we, as fans, owe artists beyond our money.
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From Kanye to Chance to Yelawolf, a rash of tour cancellations makes us consider what we, as fans, owe artists beyond our money.

Everything Kanye does triggers an avalanche of articles—that man's singlehandedly kept some thinkpiece writers employed—and so, of course, his recent hospitalization and tour cancellation have provoked round-the-clock coverage. Interestingly, though, while Kanye's certainly no stranger to criticism, this time around it feels different. Not everyone has sympathy for Mr. West, but on the whole, it feels like people have responded like Punch. 

From Kid Cudi to A$AP Yams and beyond, 2016 might just be the year that the public truly realizes that the rich and famous are often deeply troubled as well and that tour and show cancellations are often just the visible symptoms of chronic problems.

Far beyond Kanye, Chance The Rapper just canceled several tour dates due to "personal reasons" and Yelawolf canceled his current tour after what could fairly be described as erratic behavior. Far outside hip-hop, pop star Michael Bublé just canceled his tour after his son was diagnosed with cancer—the list goes on. 

“Keep going? Because I’m a slave? I gotta keep going for you because you paid me muthafucka? I’LL FIGHT YOU.” - Yelawolf to a fan before storming offstage

Yelawolf's never been a man of moderation, so while that's the most extreme version, it does lay bare a core question: just what do artists owe us, and what do we own them? 

On one level, particularly when concert tickets have been purchased and babysitters paid for and lines waited in, the relationship between the fan and the artist is essentially commercial. Just like buying a new computer or a sandwich for lunch, you paid for a product, and the artist is obligated to deliver that product. 

But on another level, of course, music can never be boiled down to such simple commercial terms. (Or at least, music worth experiencing can't.) Unlike buying a computer, paying for a concert means buying a ticket to an emotional experience. Whether it's the supreme turn up of a Rae Sremmurd show or the emotional transcendence of a classic performance, you're paying to feel something fundamentally intangible. 

When that product doesn't deliver, when you don't get to feel anything because the show doesn't happen at all, or worse, when instead of joy you feel angry disappointment because an artist walked offstage, there's a deeper promise that's been broken than with any mere product purchase.

In the best shows, there's an almost sacred circle of trust established in the venue, that if the audience lifts up the artist they'll be lifted up in return, and so there's nothing worse than when that promise is broken. 

But being a part of that promise means that we as the public must sometimes practice forgiveness and compassion, that we must actively do our part to take care of the artists who make music that helps give texture to our lives. That doesn't mean excusing shallow diva behavior, but it does mean refraining from Twitter-harassing an artist for a new album or allowing them to take time to be with their families, to stop before they become too exhausted to continue. We may pay for their art, but we don't own the artist.

And in turn, their responsibility is to create the kind of music and live shows, worth waiting for. That's a bond of trust that really only exists between a musician and their fans—make sure you're earning that trust too. 


By Nathan S, occasional keyboard hitter and beard maintainer. This is his Twitter.

Photo Credit: Instagram