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Context or creepy: why do we want to know about musicians’ personal lives?

As endless reports materialise over Shawn Mendes’ sexuality, whether Harry Styles is dating Olivia Wilde, and whether or not Kanye West is getting a divorce from Kim Kardashian, the personal lives of musical celebrities are often on display in the public eye, and the public can always be seen to be demanding more.

The reason often given for why we are so invested in the lives of musicians is that it contextualises their work. Much like understanding the background in which painters produce visual masterpieces and authors produce literary ones, the intimate lives of artists often help enrich our interaction with their works. It is not unusual to gain additional information to understand the creator’s intention, ‘message’ or the themes of their work.

With musicians sometimes not explicitly direct within their lyrics, context really helps to explain what these expressions of the artist’s own self are about. ‘Ugh’ and ‘It’s not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ by The 1975 are examples of context adding to the artist’s message. Highly metaphorical songs about Matty Healy’s drug use, they are written lyrically and stylistically like love songs, thus showing the addictive power of love to the singer as well as his struggle with addiction.

We cross boundaries and enter into an invasion of privacy

Similarly, it’s important to apply the knowledge of Clairo and Arlo Parks both being bisexual to the song ‘Bags’ and ‘Eugene’ respectively to understand the songs are about more than the risk of damaging friendships, but also crossing traditional and societally unaccepted sexual boundaries. This information helps listeners relate to the songs whilst simultaneously feeling closer to people we have come to idolise for their creations or feeling like they are flawed, complex individuals like ourselves.

However, when we enter into looking for information, through gossip sites and Twitter speculation – information that the artist hasn’t willingly offered to us – we cross boundaries and enter into an invasion of privacy. Whilst there is an argument that knowing about their philanthropy and morals might influence how we interact with an artist, knowing where they spend their Christmases, who they potentially went on two dates with, and where they do their groceries adds nothing to our interaction with their work.

Musicians often share more information and to more people than the average individual or even other types of celebrity due to the nature of their work. Despite us being consumers of their work, musicians don’t owe us listeners anything more about their lives than the average individual.

To want to interact more closely with art, and needing personal information to do this, is by no means bad

Also, sometimes the English Literature GCSE style analysis of songs or albums is not necessarily helpful or required. Taylor Swift, who after years of public invasion into her dating life became a recluse in the public eye, has produced arguably two of the best albums in her career by using stories about other people’s or characters she created. Billie Eilish’s song ‘Bellyache’, that contributed to her skyrocket to fame, sees her sing from the perspective of a killer. Beyoncé’s privacy about her personal life doesn’t stop her music from being highly successful whenever she does a surprise drop of an album.

So, is it simply nosiness that has driven us to want to know the ins-and-outs of our favourite artists’ lives? Partly. Musicians are more than solely artists whose personal lives can help to enrich their work. They are now celebrities, whose personal lives are sensationalised, and the public feel an entitlement to it as a reward for giving them their platform. To want to interact more closely with art, and needing personal information to do this, is by no means bad. But when we seek out information that the artist does not consent to give us, we do become invasive and run the risk of forcing artists into having to hide in their everyday lives.

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