By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo
WE have yet another contractual impasse in the Ghanaian music industry. This time, and quite unfortunately, it involves one of the fast-rising acts in the country Black Sherif.
With the ongoing disagreement between the artiste and his label, where it is being suggested that the popular artiste has breached his contract, a seemingly ‘wild’ suggestion on how to deal with the situation has been presented.
Outspoken artiste manager/pundit, Mr. Logic has strongly advocated that the industry ‘blocks’ Black Sherif. In other words, the industry should ‘cancel’ the artiste.
According to him, the industry should collectively reject the artiste for radio and TV interviews, on blogs, events and anything that could project his career.
Simply put, cancel culture is the idea of taking away support for an individual, their career, or fame because of something they have said or done that’s considered unacceptable.
The phenomenon of ‘cancelling’ people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies isn’t all that new.
Most of the time, people are ‘cancelled’ because they are a public figure with influence over a huge audience and what they have done or said is alleged to have caused harm to a particular person, group of people or community.
In 2020, daytime television star Ellen DeGeneres was supposedly ‘cancelled’ after being accused of fostering a “toxic” workplace culture. The same year, renowned author J.K Rowling, the woman behind the Harry Potter books was “cancelled” for a succession of online posts and activities that have been labelled as transphobic by many LGBTQ+ activists and organisations.
In July 2021, American rapper DaBaby unleashed a vile, homophobic and HIV stigmatizing tirade while performing at the Miami leg of the Rolling Loud Festival. Almost immediately, he lost high profile brand deals and future performances and was condemned by artistes across the country. He seemed destined to be another victim of ‘cancel culture’.
Some see participating in ‘cancel culture’ as the most effective way to hold public figures to account, especially if no other lawful way appears to be working. Bringing out the grievances into the public domain forces the accused’s employers and others to confront the situation and distance themselves from the perpetrator.
In other words, it re-balances the power gap between those with huge audiences and the people or communities who could be negatively affected.
Who protects the investor?
Obviously, Black Sherif’s case is not the first and would definitely not be the last. As industry folks and lovers of the arts, we have seen many of such issues going back decades.
For years, label and management executives, both old and young, have been bitter about treatment meted out to them by artistes. In almost all the cases, the artistes, who command the following, always win the public’s attention, leaving these investors to sulk.
It is unfair to invest time, resources and energy into a business venture or partnership, only for the partner to give you a raw deal. On countless occasions, artistes breach contracts, walk out of agreements and face no repercussions, leaving the investor to count his/her losses.
The repugnant attitude of artistes brazenly giving investors the stick has killed investor confidence and willingness to invest in the arts – a situation that has left the industry wailing for financial succour.
In such unfortunate situations, the investor(s) is most often than not, admonished to go to court. Ideally, that is the way to go but it does little or nothing for the investor. The extra money to spend on lawyers, the time wasted in frequenting the court and the mental exhaustion are never appealing, thus, the investor is almost compelled to let it go and mark it as bad business.
‘Cancel culture’ not announced
Mr. Logic has every right to publicly pronounce a ‘cancel culture’ considering the fact that, he is also a victim but candidly ‘cancel culture’ is strategically not announced, especially if it has nothing to do with violent, sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic activities or comments.
For issues to do with artistes not treating investors right or vice versa, action(s) in the form of ‘cancel culture’ is not announced publicly. It’s like going to war and divulging your strategy to the foe, it makes no sense. You devise your plan, execute and catch the adversary by surprise.
In a bid to ‘cancel’ an act, the appropriate and strategic thing to do is liaise or connect with those influential industry impresarios who have the fortitude to make such a move work; to fix machinations that would stifle the career of the ‘offending’ artistes.
It is only when that artiste begins to feel blockades in the projection of his career and brand that he knows he has indeed been ‘cancelled’ without warning.
The ability of an industry to collude to ‘cancel’ any act can have some dire consequences, both on the industry and on the artiste.
Once a group of industry folks is able to ‘block’ any artiste, they would assume an air of importance and power – the feeling that they can do anything to maneuver proceedings and pronounce judgment on individuals. The looming danger of witch-hunting could be the result.
The mental health of the ‘cancelled’ artiste also comes to the fore. It can essentially feel like they (cancelled acts) are being attacked by the whole world. This is particularly harmful to a person’s psychological state, as we have seen in previous cases and often leads to chronic depression and anxiety.
Rejection can have a negative impact on self-esteem and self-worth, which are risk factors for depression and anxiety, potentially leading to a worsening of the patient mental health. ‘Cancel culture’ is public shaming and social media has given rise to a particularly virulent form of mob justice that is negatively affecting mental health.
How Effective Is ‘Cancel Culture’?
‘Cancel Culture’ cannot always not be effective!
In the creative industry, the most important element is the fan, the patron or the public. They ‘call the shots’ in all regards. If the public fails to patronize the work(s) of the entertainer, everybody else is out of business.
Therefore, the effectiveness of any ‘cancel culture’ is heavily dependent on the approval and support of the public.
To subscribe to the notion that the public readily exerts its power to defrock a celebrity is to believe in a black-and-white binary, the absolute polarity of good and bad, the neat societal organization of punished and free. The truth is messier. Those who believe in and decry cancel culture also miss a crucial point. In order to enact its power, the public must have the will to do so.
In the wake of social media and digitization, tradition media or industry can choose to ‘cancel’ the artiste, but once he finds a way to win the love and patronage on that space, he laughs last.
Even if the ‘cancel culture’ becomes effective, a good PR mechanism, change in character and good products like good music could easily make the cancellation a temporary move.
In fact, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is still functioning in its normal capacity, and Harry Potter series is still on the shelves. After being ‘canceled’, DaBaby returned to the stage at Rolling Loud – the very stage where he’d hurled ignorant slurs just three months prior, but this time in New York – proving that cancellations are, at best, temporary.
In many cases, cancellations actually boost the platforms of those affected – controversy leads to clicks, after all. The truth is; the more outcry we generate over Black Sherif, the more his name projected into popular culture. As they say, no press is bad press – and by calling for cancellations, we actually further their platforms rather than removing them.