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Opinion | Why Spotify should keep streaming Kanye West’s music


Kanye West is both bipolar and an antisemite. His actions and words in recent weeks speak for themselves. Disassociating oneself or one’s business from West is completely understandable, given the ugliness of his words. But there’s one important exception.

Spotify and other streaming services are vital cultural reservoirs in a post-physical-media age. Their content libraries shouldn’t be held hostage to the whims of people who cannot separate artistic achievement from an artist’s foolishness. That might be uncomfortable for those services. But the audio streamers need to stand their ground.

It’s fine if people don’t want to listen to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” anymore; it’s vaguely totalitarian to demand that no one be able to listen to it any longer.

The debate over whether to ditch West is the inevitable result of a collision between two important ideas in modern pop culture consumption.

First, there’s “poptimism.” That concept began as an argument that pop music deserved serious criticism and analysis just as much as forms such as rock or jazz; the same idea now supports efforts to take Marvel movies as seriously as those by Jean-Luc Godard or Martin Scorsese. Then, there’s “ethical consumerism.” The term once meant things such as visiting farmers markets. It has expanded to include the demand that those who purchase art ensure the artist’s ideals align with their own. Putting even $.004 into the pocket of someone like West is a sin.

In his recent book, “Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change,” W. David Marx tracks how cultural tastes have evolved in recent years. Long gone are the experts whose esoteric tastes helped shape what was seen as “good” and “worthy of attention.” Modern consumers are now omnivorous, sampling the styles from cultures around the globe, dipping into and out of genres under the assumption that all styles have something to offer.

“If the old taste was a quiet tool of elite power,” Marx writes, “omnivore taste can be a loud cry of insurgency.” From Taylor Swift to Lil Nas X to the rise of trap music, everything’s on the table for appreciation.

And yet, the craving for status distinctions remains. But if it’s passe to declare art good or bad on the merits, consumers and critics need a different way to decide what’s in and out. Enter the new standards.

“Distaste can be noble,” Marx writes, “when wielded against the power structure, unrepentant snobs, and unreformed bigots.”

The new rules are relatively simple. Artists must espouse progressive ideals. Gatekeepers should elevate minority artists. Consumers must buy liberal products from liberal artists, though “liberal” is typically reduced to mean “conventionally diverse” or “supportive of Democratic politicians.” Cultural appropriation is verboten. And critics should strike from the canon those…

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