When Pink was dropped by his label in January following his outright support at the Trump rally, I began to wonder whether the things we associate with are beginning to become our defining attributes in a progressive but pressurising society, quick to erase the supposed wrong.
Ariel Pink’s record label, Mexican Summer, parted ways with the artist following his attendance at the pro-Trump rally that got 2021 off to such a brilliant start. They made it clear that they no longer wish to associate with Pink, due to the backlash from his own association with Trump. We are reminded of the cruel nature of music as a business, but of the rather crueler society of today. We might be increasingly progressive and intolerant of misconduct of all kinds in all environments, but to a point where pressure has began to provoke moral panic amongst organisations who are then forced to react out of the compression of unnecessary social outrage. We are eager to “cancel” industry icons out of fear of this social criticism. We are eager to remove anyone who doesn’t follow this new regime.
Ariel is right that Mexican Summer ‘succumbed to cancel culture’. Yes, it was definitely something to comprehend when hearing about Ariel as well as John Maus at the rally when the violent facts about the event later surfaced, but after taking time to understand their actions, it emerged that neither of them engaged in any rioting. There’s no doubt that many fans were enraged, selling all their merchandise in a bid to strip their identities of Pink and Trump. This notion is valid. Being offended by someone’s views is understandable as we all have our individual values and beliefs by which we live our lives. But if this is a taste of where the industry is heading, towards a filtered reality where only politically and perfectly correct music-makers are allowed the opportunity to succeed, then life will stale.
Mexican Summer were ‘getting a lot of heat and a lot of backlash’ according to Pink. He has obviously lost support which will become financially apparent for the label, but as a result, Pink is left with none of the rights to his music, with all his works now being held hostage by the label. The fact that it has come to this raises serious questions about how society is operating. Something is just wrong. This heat and backlash, this eagerness of activists who make it their absolute goal to pull the plug on people, is an ugly thing. This powerful hate runs through their quick thumbs and is absorbed by the media in countless articles. It’s a very scary thing. It has gone past being admirably progressive to join forces to speak out against the supposed wrong in the world, as something to be proud of in a global community. It is now erasing more good than bad with a process that works like sea bottom trawling.
The media assumes. The media doesn’t take time to understand. The media facilitates this dangerous cancel culture narrative. Everyone saw the violence at the rally and associated Pink with the same after hearing he was at the siege. Despite his presence at the rally being peaceful, articles and articles rolled out and began to create Pink’s defining attribute: his support for Trump with the violent Capitol association. All of a sudden, everything else contributing to Ariel’s worth as an artist and a music-maker is completely discounted. Most of these people writing about Pink have no idea who he even is, but it’s big news because he’s a celebrity making his political views apparent. These views are unfavored and now he is sought to be disposed of by the people driving the heat. Cancel culture continues.
If this is the way people are dealt with, maybe artists should complete a set of questions before signing to labels or trying to be successful, questions that make sure you’re on the “right” side of every major debate of today. This might prevent you from a good old cancelling further down the line when people decide that, actually no, we cannot like you anymore. But that idea is of course ridiculous and would be a total surrender to the real problem. You shouldn’t be afraid of saying the “wrong” thing, scared that society will completely abandon you, like some emotionally abusive partner who adores you one minute and then kicks you out if you use the wrong tone the next.
Freedom of expression and diversity of opinion are just as important in the music business as anywhere else. Having a status as someone in the spotlight doesn’t take away your status as a human being. Yes, you should be prepared for criticism, but what they don’t prepare you for nowadays is the hate that is spat out everywhere on the web. We are in a digital age that facilitates this behaviour, allowing communities of people to come together and create an ugly, overwhelming online presence like no other. Simon Reynolds put it brilliantly in a 2014 feature for Pitchfork, when he spoke of the ‘numbed exhaustion’ experienced with the media, when ‘layers of speculation upon conjecture upon speculation’ build and build. This horrible virtual weight becomes a dark and heavy cloud over the targeted, eventually pouring down the bitter taste of cancel culture. If these digital voices become the collective gatekeeper to what thrives and what doesn’t we are clamping an anxious vice around creativity, stifling freedom and breeding fear.
Ariel Pink has enriched my life. Not with his political choices… but with his fantastic music, without which my existence and many others’ would be less meaningful. As an independent music maker, I have been inspired by the delightful spontaneity of Pink’s music that has always kept me curious about why we enjoy the music that we do. I will never know why ‘Fright Night (Nevermore)’ is one of the coolest songs ever, or why the poor sound quality of ‘Loverboy’ only enhances it’s wild, intense emotion, or why ‘Santa’s In The Closet’ appears to make no sense, yet I still understand the song purely from the feel of it. But it also doesn’t matter. Ariel Pink will be a constant musical mystery to me, like many of the artists we love. This music is just engrained into us. We connect with it because it suddenly feels important in a way that we cannot pinpoint. It is part of our identities. He is part of my identity. If that means by cancel culture standards that I am now a Trump supporter and might as well have been at the riot, then let that be, because I know why I associate with Ariel, because his music is fricking great and it brings happiness into my life. There are many ways we interpret music and fall in love with it. I identify with how his music makes me feel alive.
Of course, Ariel isn’t the only one to be affected by cancel culture but there have also been many times where people’s more obviously serious actions have been rightly called out. But the process still isn’t a fair trial and there will never be a judge. The backlash gets out of hand and authoritative forces crumble under the pressure, like Mexican Summer have. Some people luckily aren’t vulnerable enough to experience the full consequences of cancel culture. When J.K. Rowling shared her view about transgender women, many were offended by her opinion and she was sought to be torn be down on Twitter. However, she is too rich and in too comfortable a position to experience the devastation that someone in a more vulnerable place can experience. We could look at our Prime Minister and his trail of unsavoury comments and see someone apparently immune to cancel culture. Powerless people will continue to suffer most.
I ask us to consider our actions before we seek to cause irreparable damage to those who don’t deserve it, ridding our lives of life forces like Ariel, who bring many, much joy and fulfilment. I am sure, however, that this will not be the end of him.