Dropping Ariel Pink: Censorship, business savvy, or just desserts?
It’s no secret that Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, aka Ariel Pink, has been a problematic character throughout his career. A critically lauded indie music provocateur, previous misdemeanours of his have been overlooked or even defended by a once loyal fanbase: “It’s not illegal to be racist”, “This gay marriage stuff pisses me off” and “I love necrophiliacs” are a few of the inflammatory answers given in past interviews, brushed off as the words of an artist being controversial for controversy’s sake. Being a ‘glib speaker’ was one justification for his questionable opinions.
On Wednesday 6th January when Pink was placed at the Capitol riots, that loyalty all but diminished.
Filmmaker Alex Lee Moyer shared photos of Pink together with John Maus at the initial protest, leaving people unsure of their involvement. Given Pink’s history, was this another stunt to spark provocation? It was made quickly apparent that no, that wasn’t the case. Having previously shown support for Donald Trump via Twitter, Pink began to double-down on his stance in the face of the online backlash, claiming that he was in attendance to “Peacefully show support for the president”. Denying that he was an active part of the pro-Trump mob, Pink also attempted to deflect attention to the BLM protests which took place last year: “all the people at these events deserve whats coming to them. they took the risk knowing full well what might happen. BLM protests over the past 6 months are not informed about the pandemic?” [sic].
Days later, Ariel Pink was dropped by his label Mexican Summer. Increasing pressure mounted on the label, given that his immediate fanbase and even moderate fans of his music had swiftly turned against him due to his ‘alt-right’ political views. Admittedly, I thought that label making the decision to cut their ties premature – publicly showing support for the current elected President shouldn’t be enough to sack someone off entirely, even if it does clarify that Pink is a bit of a dick. But the seismic fallout from the Capitol riots, or insurrection to put it correctly, meant that anyone in attendance should rightly be deemed culpable. The wounds of an attack on an institution of democracy will run deep for years to come, let alone the irreparable loss of the five persons that died because of the riots. The label’s stance was that you can’t be tolerant towards intolerance, so severed links with immediate effect.
Even if that wasn’t the case and Mexican Summer had hypothetically taken the same ideological stance as Pink for instance, the decision would’ve made sense from a purely business perspective; 90% of the bankable fans/consumers may no longer give a shit about his music, meaning his music is no longer a ‘viable product’. Apologies for the commodification, but it’s a valid point.
Inevitably, the cancel culture debate then came-a-raging, with many arguing that it was another case of censoring an artist whose beliefs don’t align with the left-wing agenda. Same old, same old. But being dropped doesn’t completely 'silence' an artist. Yes, fundamentally it makes it more difficult for your music to be heard, given the financial backing and industry connections that make being signed to a label the ambition of most musicians. After a career spanning two decades, Pink has the cache to still sell records if another label wanted to take a punt on him, or if he wanted to self-release. ‘Separate the art from the artist’. Yada yada. Purely in terms of his music, he has been remarkably influential in the indie music canon. But Pink wasn’t dropped merely for supporting Trump. He was dropped for being associated with one of the most cataclysmic moments in contemporary politics. And I haven't even mentioned the previous allegations of domestic abuse.
Surprisingly, (or unsurprisingly in hindsight) the furore around Pink’s dismissal resulted in an interview with absurdist Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson. Was lo-fi, hypnagogic pop music the dish of the day for conservative music tastes? Will 'Butthouse Blondies' become the next MAGA anthem? A slight stretch of the imagination, as the appearance of Pink only reinforces right-wing narrative that anyone anti-Trump will attempt to have you erased from history.
After his opening salvo, Carlson goes for the jugular: "When did you realise your career was destroyed?". Dramatic, as we've come to expect from anything broadcast on Fox News, but watching Pink pitifully decry ‘cancel culture’, in a sorry attempt to seek sympathy after being a 'victim' of a movement that has left him supposedly penniless ("destitute and "on the street" in his own words) was a tough watch. Of course, no one can condone the death threats Pink and his family have received in the days following the insurrection, but it was a desperate plea to a demographic that likely have no idea who he is, or care. A plea that will likely leave him more isolated than before.
"I've been cancelled many times", defies Pink, "it doesn't really affect my ego." I'm finding it hard to see where or why he's fishing for sympathy here, if he's clearly unaffected. And no one buys that an artist who's been making DIY recordings for the most part of his career can no longer record music, so sympathy will be in short supply.
The ditch he dug himself got deeper after his interview with Andrew Callaghan's Brake Check podcast was published days after he was dropped. Though the interview was recorded in November of last year, it acts as a prelude to his downfall. Trying to string a coherent conversation together whilst shakily clutching a Modelo, he doesn't seem to make any particularly viable political points. The recent election being rigged and that people don't actually hate Trump even when they do was one take-away ("They don't hate him, they like the attention. They don't hate him, they hate their father"), or the fact that those who voted against him are simply anti-authoritarian after admitting he is anti-authoritarian himself but everyone that voted for Joe Biden is an anarchist? *shrug*
Maybe it's time for Ariel Pink to reclaim some dignity and hide in that self-dug ditch for the foreseeable future.