In the sporadic instances throughout my life where I’ve vocally referred to myself as a “feminist,” I’ve often faced skepticism from other people. Taking stock of it, the most ridiculous of this skepticism has come from other men, who have sometimes accused me of cynically adopting this label in an effort to pander to women for romantic purposes. Regardless of how many times I assure them otherwise, they seem irrationally convinced that I employ a strategy for impressing girls that involves awkwardly shoehorning feminist rhetoric into otherwise casual conversations, like: “My day is going okay, I’m just feeling a bit down about the patriarchy, you know?”
Significantly more legitimate is the skepticism I’ve encountered from women, who have periodically rolled their eyes at my assertion, understandably wearied by the many male feminists they’ve undoubtedly encountered who don’t seem to understand the difference between being an informed ally and obnoxiously presuming to understand the female experience. To this point, I can only say that I try my best not to be one of these guys. Whenever possible, I try to let my actions speak louder than my words, and make it a point to signal-boost relevant female voices rather than add my own unsubstantiated ideas to the conversation.
Of course, it’s not always so cut and dry. In my determination to avoid this trap, there have undoubtedly been moments where overthinking has led to inaction, ultimately undermining the fundamental purpose of being an ally to begin with. In these less-than-proud moments, I feel like a person who has resolved to donate money to a worthy cause but then spends all their money on records because they can’t figure out which charity would make the most prudent use of their donation. As I write this, I worry that I’m speaking out of turn, or that this could be misconstrued as me complaining about something incredibly petty from a relative position of privilege. Even with the best of intentions, though, sometimes it’s difficult to know how best to be an ally.
Admittedly, even if I wanted to complain about this issue (I don’t), I’d be a hypocrite for doing so. Just as I’ve faced skepticism from others every time I’ve referred to myself as a “feminist,” I’ve also been guilty of subjecting public figures to similar scrutiny in the past.
It’s a feeling I was struck with as I watched Logic perform his incredibly popular ode to suicide prevention, “1-800-273-8255,” at the VMAs. As the performance was coming to a close, I found myself scoffing at Logic’s impassioned epilogue: “I just want to take a moment right now to thank you all so much for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about: mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression, and so much more that I talk about on this album.”
As a fairly ardent consumer of mainstream media, I was confused by Logic’s assertion here. There are a number of reasons why the subject of mental health has remained stigmatized within society, to be sure, but a lack of coverage in the mainstream media isn’t one of them. Even just off the top of my head, I can think of countless television shows that offer nuanced depictions of mental health afflictions—from Bojack Horseman, to Insecure, to fucking Degrassi—and this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
A simple Google search of the phrase “celebrities with mental health struggles” returns many well-publicized examples of influential voices who have used their platforms to courageously discuss personal issues they’ve experienced with their brain chemistries. As such, I found myself feeling irritated by Logic’s apparent attempt to position himself as a transgressive poster-boy for this cause. It was hard for me to imagine that he genuinely believed he was staking his reputation on the fairly uncontroversial stance that “suicide isn’t chill.” Relatedly, his choice to capitalize on the moment to plug his album also felt a bit gauche.
It didn’t take long for me to realize how incredibly petty these criticisms were. As soon as I learned about the spike in calls to the suicide-prevention lifeline that directly followed this performance—and the profound impact that the song has had on suicide-prevention more broadly—I immediately realized how absurd I’d have to be to continue taking a holier-than-thou stance here. Within seconds, I went from feeling like I was offering legitimate criticisms, to chastising myself, like: “Logic has literally helped thousands of people climb out of the darkest moments of their lives, what the fuck have you ever done with your life except being snarky on the internet?!”
To be fair, I’m far from the only online commentator who has sometimes had a hard time distinguishing between necessary criticisms and snark—particularly when it comes to evaluating rappers like Logic. Scanning the reviews of his latest album, Everybody, it’s now impossible for me to overlook the many instances where other reviewers have similarly missed the mark. For example, Pitchfork’s assertion that the album’s lyrical content is “tone deaf” is certainly a reasonable critique, but their later assertion that “it's the #AllLivesMatter of rap albums” is deeply unfair. Having lamented the album’s often heavy-handed and sometimes contradictory messages myself, I can certainly appreciate that this assessment—which Uproxxechoed in their review of the album as well—may have come from a legitimate place, but to compare it to the All Lives Matter movement, on any level, is an utterly disproportionate rebuke.
It’s one of those statements that sounds funny because it carries the rhythm of a joke but is completely meaningless when dissected. All Lives Matter is a pernicious movement that undermines a vital struggle to end the tyranny of police brutality in the black community. Logic’s album, at its worst, is a misguided call for widespread empathy that if too “wishy-washy” to affect meaningful change is certainly too “wishy-washy” to cause any active harm. Perhaps it’s worth noting that Logic has expressed support, albeit noncommittally, to the Black Lives Matter movement in past interviews, while Fetty Wap, who has come out and actively stated his belief in the “All Lives Matter” philosophy has never been accused of making “All Lives Matter rap.”
A criticism like this is particularly damaging because it calls into question Logic’s intentions more than it does the quality of his music; the latter of which can be fairly criticized, while the former of which is pointless to speculate on. It’s a trend that is perhaps most strongly evidenced by the way in which we treat Macklemore, whose songs “Same Love” and “White Privilege II” certainly had theirproblems, but didn’t deserve to be called “performative” asmanytimesastheywere. This charge of performativity is especially strange because it presupposes a scenario in which Macklemore was sitting around in the studio one day, deliberating on which important social movement he could exploit for accolades and success. Say what you will about Macklemore, but nothing he’s ever done has led me to believe that he made “Same Love” as part of a calculated strategy to manipulate mass audiences and GRAMMY voters.
If I had to venture a theory, I’d say that this phenomenon of assuming that artists harbor insincere intentions has more to do with our own guilt than it has to do with the actual work of these artists. If we can convince ourselves that Bono’s work as a philanthropist is more about status than it is about a genuine desire to make the world a better place, then we can irrationally convince ourselves that his work is invalidated and make ourselves feel less guilty about our own apathy and lack of action. Here at DJBooth we have encountered similar pushback recently over our editorial decision not to cover the work of rapper and domestic abuser XXXTentacion and I imagine that this is part of the reason.
Perhaps the most confounding thing we accuse artists like Macklemore and Logic of is being “self-important.” It’s a baffling criticism because it implies that their importance is ego-driven or imagined, rather than a very real byproduct of their legions of fans and massive platforms. Knowing that anything they do or say will be subject to intense scrutiny must make it difficult to determine how best to use these platforms. In essence, they face the same exact problem that I outlined at the beginning of this article, but on an exponentially larger scale. And yet, whereas I’ve sometimes been too cowardly to take action with my 300 Twitter followers, they push past this fear of failure and intense criticism and try to be an ally the best way they know how.
I don’t necessarily love Logic and Macklemore's music, or always think that they strike the exact right tone, but I’m done levying self-defeating criticisms their way. If the net effect of their work is more positive than negative, I think I can look at the bigger picture and forgive a bit of “performativity” here or there.