Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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An Artist Isn’t Supposed To Please Everyone


In a recent interview with NPR, System of a Down‘s frontman Serj Tankian opened up about the personal costs of his activism. Tankian, whose 2021 documentary “Truth To Power” chronicles his journey as a politically engaged musician, discussed the potential fallout of his outspoken nature on his fan base.

“I’m okay with that because an artist isn’t supposed to please everyone,” he stated. “An artist is supposed to basically try to receive through the collective consciousness whatever truths that we’re trying to live by, the truths of our times. If we can’t do that as artists, then we’re entertainers.”

Tankian elaborated on the inherent choice between being an entertainer and an artist, emphasizing the challenges of the latter path.

“From day one, you have to make that choice: Are you an entertainer only or are you going to be an artist? If you’re an entertainer, that’s cool; there are many entertainers I follow and love. But if you’re going to be an artist, then the road is not going to be easy. You’re going to have to be honest with yourself and everyone else at all times, and people are going to like you and people are going to hate you, and that’s okay.”

Reflecting on his role within System of a Down, Tankian acknowledged his unique position as the band’s primary activist voice. This dual focus often created tension between his desire to deliver a message and the band’s musical goals. “I was more of the activist in the band than anyone else. There was always this push and pull between the message and the music,” he noted.

While he respected his bandmates’ preference to prioritize music, Tankian felt that certain messages were too crucial to suppress.

“The other guys, rightfully so, didn’t want the music to be victimized by the message at all times. I understood that because I loved the music as well, but when there was a message that needed to be dispersed, I felt like that was just as important, if not more important, than the music.”

In another conversation with Books On Pod, Tankian shared how his grandparents’ Armenian heritage spurred his activism. Learning about his family’s past in his teens, he became acutely aware of the geopolitical forces that shaped their history.

“When you’re in a democracy and you are afraid to speak the truth because of backlash, that’s when you feel like that something’s really wrong,” he reflected.

Tankian’s activism is deeply rooted in his identity as an Armenian-American and the ongoing struggle for recognition of the Armenian Genocide: “And mind you, that, coupled with growing up as an Armenian-American in Los Angeles, paying taxes to a country that is not properly recognizing the genocide of our ancestors, a democracy not recognizing proper history because of political expediency, because of Turkey being a NATO ally, and they didn’t want to recognize it, just dirty political fucking geopolitics, that makes you an activist. That made me an activist.”

His passion extends beyond Armenian issues to broader human rights, animal rights, and climate justice: “That made me someone who fights for truth and justice, not just having to do with Armenians or Armenian issues, but many issues — in the U.S., human rights issues around the world and even animal rights, climate issues. You see the world of injustice and justice, you see that imbalance, and you wanna kind of tip the scales up because you know that that’s gonna make the world a better place in every way.”

“I’ve always spoken truth to power, but only because I cared. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t speak my mind,” he concluded.

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