March 4, 2024

Halsey Opens Up About the Ongoing Fear of ‘Cancel Culture’ Impacting Her Career

In a revealing new interview, pop star Halsey admitted she still feels afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and being a victim of “cancel culture.” The singer, known for her outspoken nature and advocacy for various social issues, said she constantly feels like she’s “walking on eggshells” and that the threat of cancellation looms over everything she does.

“I still feel scared,” Halsey confessed. “I have this overwhelming fear that I’m going to say the wrong thing and my career is going to be over.”

It’s disheartening to hear such a bold artist express apprehension about speaking and acting freely, but Halsey is far from alone in this sentiment. More and more public figures have been opening up about the chilling effect cancel culture has had on their lives and careers. And it’s not hard to see why.

In this hyper-volatile climate, a single tweet, interview response or other action deemed improper by the court of public opinion is enough to ignite a firestorm of backlash. Whether warranted or not, the consequences are often swift and severe. And once that snowball starts rolling down the cancellation mountain, it can be difficult to stop.

Look no further than stars like JK Rowling, who faced intense criticism and boycotts over perceived anti-trans tweets. Or actors Hartley Sawyer and Ruby Rose, who were fired from their TV shows due to past insensitive posts. Once-respected comedians like Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle have faced attempts to “cancel” them for routines deemed homophobic or transphobic. Kanye West was dropped by sponsors and business partners after his recent antisemitic remarks.

The list goes on and on. And social media has only amplified cancel culture, providing people with an instantaneous way to voice outrage and coordinate punishment. Whether it’s digging up old tweets, flooding comments with condemnation or mounting hashtag campaigns to get someone fired, “cancelling” is now just a click away.

The looming threat of being cancelled now lingers over everyone in the public eye, forcing them to self-censor or risk severe professional consequences and reputation damage if they say the “wrong” thing. And the court of public opinion shows no mercy.

Halsey has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind, even when it comes at a cost. She has been candid about her personal experiences with mental illness, reproductive health, abuse and more in her music and interviews. The 26-year-old Grammy nominee has used her platform to advocate for LGBTQ rights, racial justice, women’s rights and other social causes. She even publicly called out her record label for “gatekeeping” and allegedly refusing to release a song about her abortion unless she compromised artistically.

But despite her fearlessness and desire to champion important issues, the specter of cancellation clearly still haunts her.

“I have a lot to lose,” Halsey explained. “If people decide I’m problematic and they stop supporting me, I lose my career.”

And it’s easy to see why she feels this way, when any celebrity these days seems capable of getting “cancelled” over the slightest misstep or controversy. Outrage and intense scrutiny now rain down over perceived “problematic” behavior that in the past may have only generated minor backlash.

Comedian Kevin Hart, for instance, stepped down from hosting the Oscars after facing criticism over past homophobic jokes and tweets. Despite apologizing, the outrage persisted and Hart decided not to host rather than become a distraction.

“I’ve been protested and rallied against. I lost out on jobs,” Hart later said, referencing the immense public pressure he faced.

Similar stories abound of careers suffering due to cancellation. And the possibility of earning that scarlet “C” makes artists like Halsey justifiably anxious.

“Because some people hate me so vehemently, all it takes is one wrong move and I’m done,” she said.

Sadly, in the cancel culture era, those “wrong moves” can include almost anything, from poorly chosen words to vagueposts misinterpreted as offensive. And when nuance flies out the window, commentary only exists in the extremes.

Rose McGowan, herself no stranger to scandal and controversy, called this type of culture “one of the darkest aspects of humanity” and a “societal poisoning.”

“This is going to get worse before it gets better,” McGowan warned, alluding to cancellation’s stranglehold tightening.

The urge to “punish” and shut down those viewed as promoting harmful opinions or behavior certainly arises from understandable emotions and intentions. But the loose criteria for what warrants cancellation these days means it can easily be misapplied in overzealous or knee-jerk ways.

Vigilante justice delivered through destroying careers and reputations is not always the best path forward. Particularly when nuance, context and intent do not enter the equation. We have seen many examples of lives damaged over misinterpretations, overreactions or mistakes made long ago.

Take television actress Stassi Schroeder of “Vanderpump Rules,” who along with Kristen Doute was fired for racially problematic actions in 2018 that resurfaced online two years later. Despite both women apologizing profusely and claiming they had grown as individuals, their apologies fell on deaf ears. Bravo swiftly cut ties and condemnation poured in.

Whether they deserved cancellation can be debated. But the event does highlight our modern tendency to dredge up the past and re-punish retroactively based on today’s standards. Comedian Kevin Hart also pointed this out, noting how acts long ago now somehow warrant renewed furor rather than considering a person’s evolution since.

“When did we get to a point where life was supposed to be perfect?” Hart wrote on Instagram after withdrawing from the Oscars gig. “Where people’s past and mistakes weren’t supposed to be a part of the future?”

Of course, addressing legitimate harmful behavior is important. But reflexively shouting down and “cancelling” anyone who misspeaks or has ever made an offensive joke may not allow room for people to learn and evolve.

Comedian Michael Ian Black mused about this danger on Twitter, saying: “The impulse to cancel people comes from an absolute certainty about right and wrong. Understandable. Less defensible is the unwillingness to accept an apology followed by growth.”

If we instantly cast out anyone with perceived flaws or who has made mistakes, the risk is creating an environment where no one feels comfortable speaking freely or taking creative risks for fear of the consequences. Halsey alludes to this stifling impact of cancel culture, saying she feels she has to self-censor to a paralyzing degree.

That’s not to say public figures shouldn’t face scrutiny or be held accountable for wrongdoing. But we need space for dialogue, context, personal evolution and redemption. Shutting down everyone who offends or misspeaks does not allow for bridge-building. Often, education is more productive than excommunication.

Writer Nicole Froio argued this point in a piece about cancel culture’s detrimental effects. “We also need to keep in mind that cancelling someone at the first sign of wrongdoing does not allow space for public learning and reflection,” Froio wrote. “It perpetuates the idea that human beings cannot learn and evolve ethically.”

While the idea of simply “cancelling” a problematic celebrity offers instant gratification, it may actually impede social progress by cutting off opportunities for discussion, growth and mutual understanding.

As McGowan cautioned, the tendency to swiftly “cancel” and move on rather than doing the work of education and engagement is damaging to society.

“It’s not just about famous people or intrigue, but about society and how we relate to each other as human beings,” she said. “Are we projecting our shadows onto others?”

When condemnation replaces conversation, we often miss chances to change minds and sway opinions. Writing off those who have offended or made mistakes means losing potential allies in the fight for social justice. If they vanish from the spotlight under fire, their chances to evolve publicly or lend their voices to important causes disappear as well.

“If we continue to simply cancel people at the first sight of wrongdoing-without allowing room for the possibility of learning, growth, and productive conversation-we all suffer,” Froio observed.

Of course, not every cancelled person necessarily deserves patience, empathy or a shot at redemption. But we shouldn’t assume that cancelling or shaming will change minds or systems. Often, it merely makes us feel a fleeting sense of justice while precluding opportunities for actual substantive change.

The climate of fear that cancel culture creates does not cultivate social progress. It causes those with huge platforms like Halsey to withhold their voices about important issues for fear of Misspeaking and being condemned. The potential chilling effect on speech and art is deeply troubling. And the cycle goes on, as others witness celebrities being torn down over any perceived transgression.

“Everyone is so scared of each other,” Halsey noted with dismay. “We’re afraid of our own shadow.”

Where does that leave us? In an era of hyper-accountability where people feel forced into self-censorship and fear? Where mistake-making leaves no room for growth or productive dialogue?

Perhaps we need more openness, nuance and patience amid our callouts and cancellations. More willingness to teach where we might otherwise condemn. And the humility to allow personal evolution, conversation and redemption.

Halsey has made it clear she supports equality, inclusivity and other social justice causes. She has used her music and platform to champion the oppressed and marginalized. So while nobody should get a free pass for promoting harmful rhetoric, shouldn’t such allies get the benefit of the doubt occasionally or be allowed room to learn from missteps?

If we silence and discard everyone who speaks imperfectly or inelegantly on complex issues, we lose valuable voices and activism in the fight for change. Their potential to spread awareness is wasted. And others are dissuaded from speaking up about injustice, for fear of being excommunicated over inevitable human error.

Of course, how we relate to public figures and hold them accountable is a personal choice. But perhaps some food for thought before grabbing the pitchforks. Not to excuse harm, but to allow light through the cracks. To create space for those cancelled and cast out who might still productively contribute to important cultural conversations.

As Michael Ian Black wrote amid calls to “cancel” comedian Kevin Hart, “Kevin’s work has made homophobia less powerful. And that work will go undone”.

So while accountability has its place, we must also leave room for humanity. And recognize that the work of social change requires nuance, patience and sometimes forgiveness. Not just indignation and punishment.

If we want real dialogue and justice, “cancelling” those who stumble, make mistakes or even hurt others may not always get us there. There are often better paths to chart, though less immediately gratifying. We must seek them out.

Halsey’s career is proof of how activism, charitable work and culturally relevant art can positively impact society. So while she may understandably fear the swift judgement of cancel culture, hopefully Halsey feels empowered to keep speaking out boldly for the voiceless.

The discussion about cancel culture and accountability is layered and complex. But if we approach it with more nuance, empathy and patience, we can likely build a more just, compassionate society than simply shouting each other down ever will. Trust that there are more constructive ways forward than just outrage and cancellation. We must seek them, despite the challenges.

Hopefully, talented voices like Halsey’s will feel sufficiently emboldened and safe to lend their words, music and humanity to the cultural dialogues that so desperately need them.

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