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Will you buy Alicia Keys’s next album “Girl On Fire?” Or do you resent her for dating and then marrying and having a child with Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, who when they met, was still married to Mashonda Tifrere, his first wife (and mother to his second of four children, including his son with Alicia)? Despite several denials that Keys and Dean were dating while he was still in a relationship with his wife (both maintain he was separated when they first started seeing each other, Mashonda says that isn’t true) there are many people online, especially other Black women, who haven’t let how the relationship started go. Many of these women, formerly Keys’ fans, say they won’t support another project she does. Keys is now in the same position as people like R. Kelly, Chris Brown and Fantasia, whose public personal lives have affected people’s perceptions of their music.

But is that fair or does it even make sense? Case in point – Kelly’s alleged penchant for underage dating. He married Aaliyah when she was just 15, although the marriage, illegal in Illinois, was later annulled. Then Kelly faced allegations that a widely viewed videotape of a man that looked like him was in a sexual situation with what looked like an underage girl. Though he went to trial, the young woman identified as the underage girl in question would not testify and Kelly was acquitted. But most of us still enjoy Marvin Gaye’s music and he met his girlfriend and then wife, Janis Gaye, when she was just 16. They lived together during the time he was still married to his first wife, Ann Gordy. Or what about soul man Bobby Womack – who married Sam Cooke’s widow just months after his death and then was allegedly caught with Cooke’s teenage daughter – who then went on to marry his brother?

It seems that the modern tabloid/Twitter/Internet/reality TV culture has put celebrity personal lives on display more than ever before in entertainment history. There have always been scandals and gossip rags, but today’s instant connection with celebrities who can air out beefs via Twitter (the social media site of choice where Mashonda chose to write Alicia Keys a very personal letter) or get busted cheating, beating or just in the wrong place with the wrong person by anyone with a camera phone can make it hard to maintain any privacy. But what’s even newer than that is fans' refusal to separate the artist from the art.  

There are people who feel like they could never support Brown or Kelly just on the strength of what they’ve done or been accused of doing, but that said, does anyone really think that the behavior that got them into trouble is isolated to those two? Musicians, entertainers and celebrities of all kinds often indulge in anti-social, deviant and illegal behavior due to mental illness, addiction, entitlement or just plain narcissism. Music, in particular, has its share of flamboyant personalities and the industry doesn’t require a strict adherence to playing by the rules as say, sports stars, have to do.

If we knew what everyone in movies, TV and music was really up to behind closed doors, judging artists on their personal lives would leave many of us with nothing to listen to or see. Even gospel music has its scandals. Kirk Franklin once admitted to a porn addiction and Tye Tribbett went public with the problems in his marriage that culminated with he and his wife being unfaithful to each other. Does that mean people who disagree with those behaviors stop supporting those artists? Often, in the gospel community it does, but there is also often forgiveness displayed for people who do what is human and normal – stray from a perfect path.

The growing lack of any barriers between the celebrated and those who celebrate them does personalize things, but music, movies, TV and other forms of entertainment should stand on their own merits. Neither Kelly nor Brown may be no one you’d want to introduce your daughters to, and Fantasia and Keys might have some personal karma coming their way eventually but they all still make good music. You don’t have to see artists as role models to appreciate the art.  lives?

By Tonya Pendleton

Will you buy Alicia Keys’s next aBut increasingly our reliance on the cult of personality to determine our stars means that art is no longer appreciated for its own sake. And that’s too bad. If we base our love of certain artists and their art based on their personal lives alone, many of our idols, past and present, would fall. At the end of the day, artists are human and prone to making mistakes and indulging in bad behavior. As long as they make great music – I’m willing to accept that. Are you?


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