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Celebrity relationships: should artists profit from heartbreak?

Celebrity relationships can lead to so-called 'cancel culture'
Celebrity relationships are often common sources of inspiration for many artists. Source: Jana Beamer (via Flickr)
New releases from Taylor Swift and have shown how artists often base entire albums on failed relationships, but is this fair, especially when it encourages 'cancel culture'?

By Vicky Witts | Head of Comment

In the last few weeks, the music industry has seen two hugely successful album releases that are quickly taking over the charts and collecting many online streams- Adele’s 30, and Taylor Swift’s re-recording of Red (Taylor’s Version). 

While both albums are different in terms of genre and target audience, themes of relationships and heartbreak appear in both to be the most important to fans. In one of Swift’s most popular songs from the album, ‘All Too Well’, listeners have suggested that she sings about the heartbreak of her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, when she was 20 and he was 29. Although this is merely speculation, and has not been confirmed by Swift, fans have been using the song as a catalyst to criticise Gyllenhaal online. 

Similarly, Adele is known for writing emotional songs about love and relationships, and ‘30’ was no different. She has claimed that the album was a way of explaining her divorce from ex-husband Simon Konecki to her nine-year-old son Angelo. Unlike Taylor Swift however, Adele appears to take a kinder view of her ex-relationship, stating to her son in the song ‘My Little Love’: “I love your dad ‘cause he gave you to me”. 

Regardless of the approaches that the two singers have chosen to take towards portraying their romances in songs, both have used their albums to reveal private aspects of their lives that would otherwise likely stay covered. This poses two major questions: is it ‘right’ for artists to profit off their private lives, and (in the case of Swift’s album), is it fair for fans to criticise the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal? 

Publicity from pain 

On one hand, celebrities are well within their rights to use their past experiences as inspiration for their music. Songs about love and heartbreak are common all throughout music, regardless of genre, and are often a way for artists to cope with emotions which can be complex to manage otherwise. In an interview about her debut album ‘Sour’, Olivia Rodrigo stated that, when facing sexist criticism that young female artists sing only about boys, “I’m a teenage girl, I write about stuff that I feel really intensely… and I think that’s authentic and natural”. 

Writing about the hardships that they have faced, also may be a useful way of making artists appear more like ‘real people’, particularly for young people who can learn that they are not alone in their feelings. As such, artists who show real emotions and relationships may be viewed as good role-models for fans. 

However, as many responses to Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well’ have shown, publicising intimate details of a relationship to a dedicated audience can also damage the reputation of those involved. From TikTok to Twitter, fans of Swift have taken to social media to show their support for Taylor and her new album. 

In many cases, the support has been seemingly harmless, and only goes so far as to compliment the song, and the ways she was able to write such deep lyrics about her feelings when she was just 20 years old. Much like Adele, Swift is entitled to use her own experiences about her relationships to inspire her song writing, and many fans have stated that her song has helped them in their own breakups or hard times. 

Overwhelmingly though, many fans online have engaged in ‘cancel culture’, attempting to portray Jake Gyllenhaal as a villain in his relationship with Swift, and suggesting more generally that he shouldn’t be supported. 

As listeners have no true knowledge of what goes on in the private lives of artists, such strong accusations are unfair, and can have damaging consequences on those targeted. This is not to say that what fans are suggesting about Gyllenhaal and many others is or isn’t true, but rather that it should be considered that the messages within songs are not necessarily works of fact and are instead simply expressions of the songwriters’ emotions. 

In future, fans need to consider supporting artists and their emotions, without going to extremes or getting swept into the hysteria of ‘cancel culture’. 

Victoria Witts Comment

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