I·dol /ˈīdl/ A person that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.
I recently saw a K-pop album on sale for the insanely low price of 99 cents. 99 cents!! I knew I really liked one of the songs on it, the lead vocalist was super talented, and I’d get a whole album with additional songs and a booklet! No brainer purchase, right? I’ve never seen a K-pop album for less than $10, which I saw once, and when I saw that $10 album (Wanna One’s “0+1=1” by the way) I purchased it without a single thought. So you’re thinking I certainly must have bought that .99 album without a thought, right? Nope. Because it wasn’t a no-brainer purchase. I had to give this one a thought, and I did, for about 5 seconds. And then I had my second thought: I can’t buy this. I don’t want to own this or give it my 99 cents. The album was Drug Restaurant.
It didn’t matter how much I liked the song, it would forever be tainted. I’m not saying that to be sanctimonious, because had that album been by an artist I’d truly idolized, truly loved, I might not have made the same decision. The choice was easier because that artist wasn’t a fave of mine, it was just a song I really liked. But what happens when someone we do genuinely admire, love and revere does something awful. Our idols, ults, our faves. Do we throw out every album we own? Rip up their photo cards and tear down their posters? What if an ult commits a heinous crime? Would I put years of someone I’ve loved as a fan behind me forever? I’m pretty certain I would if the crime was horrible. Thankfully, at least as of this writing, I haven’t had to do that. But it’s conceivable that I could.
What’s more than just conceivable, probable in fact, is that one of our faves will simply let us down at some point. Not a heinous crime, but something wrong, for certain. It’s especially dicey to be multi-fandom, as I proudly am, because the odds are against us: the more idols you adore, the more likely you’re gonna be disappointed by one of them. I know I have been, haven’t you? Because even though they’re admired, loved and revered, they’re still just human beings. Even idols that are genuinely great people are bound to have faults they can’t hide forever. And while some idols are certainly people you’d be proud to call friends in real life, others, unfortunately, are not. And all it takes is one poorly-judged post on social media, one ill-thought-out remark on a broadcast, and a true color is suddenly shown. Heck a mere facial expression captured at a particular moment can reveal an offensive characteristic. It’s a guarantee that at some point we’ll have to forgive, or at worst cancel, one of our faves over something they say or do. People screw up, even the good ones. And the worst ones can only hide their true selves to the extent that fate, karma, or Dispatch allows.
When your fave lets you down, I personally think it’s OK to feel conflicted about abandoning or canceling them for good. “Cancel culture” says differently, it dictates we immediately drop all love we felt and replace it with revulsion. But I’ve struggled with that. When my idols let me down, I feel genuinely heartbroken. Upset and disgusted too, but heartsick at the same time. Falling out of love hurts and takes a little time. It’s silly to say, but there are typical grief stages to it: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages might take minutes, they might take months. On the other side of them, I’ve definitely canceled a fave, for good and forever. But not always. I won’t cancel someone because the culture says I have to, I do it because I can’t personally admire, love or revere them anymore. If I can, well then… In a few cases, I’ve turned to my kids after time has passed and said, “Is it OK if I like X again? Because I really miss them.” “No mom, still canceled,” they’ve said, or “I guess so if you want to, but don’t tell anyone.” I get it. Some tarnish never fades for the culture at large, or for individual fans for that matter. People are allowed to have valid personal reasons to withhold forgiveness.
For me, whether to cancel or forgive depends on if an artist sincerely feels bad about screwing-up, and commits to change for the better. Now of course they all say they feel bad and will change, but time is the only real test. And I don’t mean time away from the spotlight, like say, oh y’know, 21 – 24 months, wink wink. No. Stepping out of the limelight for a long time is not a way of ensuring someone is going to change. If anything, it benefits the remorseless because people, by our nature, invest more effort into repairing relationships when we’ve grown apart. Cheating spouses go “in the doghouse.” Deadbeat parents disappear for years. In the meantime, they are missed, and hardened hearts soften. When they pop back into our lives, the undeserving might be welcomed into our bosom only to bite us down the road like Aesop’s viper.
The true test of whether an artist has changed for the better is their time in our daily lives, in the spotlight. If someone has truly changed, they probably won’t repeat that same behavior because it’s no longer in them to do so. People can change for the better if they work at it. I’m trying to get through writing this without naming names or giving specifics, but hopefully if you’re reading this, you know of an idol that did something wrong in the past, but has since shown themselves to be better for it. Not perfect, but better. In other words, they might mess up, but they’ll never mess up like that again. Whether through art, words, attitude, whatever, it’s clear they’ve changed and grown. When an artist has the strength of character to address a past wrongdoing and takes positive steps to counteract prior negative ones, they’ve earned forgiveness in my book. Fallen idols can’t re-claim that title by rights, it’s gotta be earned back.
As much as I wish this post wasn’t timely, it almost always will be, for some fan, somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s timely for me today. I’m in sad hours about a fave that may or may not have done something that really lets me down. I hope they haven’t.