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Is It Wrong To Listen To The Music Of Accused and Convicted Criminals?

There are two camps -- those who believe a musician's art to be separate to their personal life, and others who believe they are intrinsically linked.

Most recently, two men appeared in the documentary series Leaving Neverland and claimed singer Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were children.

Despite this, Jackson's music has recently seen a resurgence in the charts. In New Zealand, two of his albums were in the iTunes top 100 in the middle of March. In the UK, one of his songs climbed as high as number 23.

READ MORE: 'Leaving Neverland' Delves Into Very Graphic Detail Of Jackson's Alleged Abuse

A still from Leaving Neverland by Dan Reed. Photo: Sundance Institute.

R&B artist R Kelly has long denied accusations of sexual misconduct.

Chris Brown was handed five years probation and community service to hitting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009.

READ MORE: Gayle King Masterfully Handles R. Kelly In Explosive Interview

Musician and music teacher Winnie Lewis told 10 daily not listening to the music of artists like Jackson, Kelly and Brown would be ignoring their contribution to pop culture.

"To not listen to the music would be to deny a part of our own culture. Artists are receptive, their music is a product of the society they are a part of," Lewis said.

When accusations are pinned against artists, Lewis said musicians in the wider industry take it personally, feeling emotions from anger to embarrassment.

Some musicians even feel guilty for having supported particular artists before accusations were levelled against them.

Chris Brown's off-stage antics often make headlines.

As a music teacher of children, the recent sexual abuse allegations against Jackson have seen Lewis omit his work from her lessons temporarily.

"I was going to use a Michael Jackson song, "Billie Jean", to help teach my students about dance music," Lewis said.

"However, because the attention the new Michael Jackson documentary was receiving, I decided to change the song to a Justin Timberlake song."

"I didn't think too much about it, I still love the song, but I didn't want parents to get upset. I hope I can go back using Michael Jackson songs in my lessons."

The impact of well-known figures being accused of serious crimes extends well beyond the music industry to the general public and victims themselves.

Sheridan Linnel, director of Academic Program, Clinical Psychology and Therapy Studies at Western Sydney University, said it's problematic for victims when the public cannot acknowledge that popularity and skill don't guarantee a celebrity will act morally.

Gayle King Masterfully Handles R. Kelly In Explosive Interview
R Kelly denies allegations of misconduct during a CBS News interview with Gayle King. Image: CBS News.

 While it's a personal decision to listen to an alleged criminal's music, she said fans defending a celebrity can lead to the victim being blamed for their demise.

"I am acutely aware of how survivors struggle on a daily basis with secrecy and shame, as a consequence of the grooming tactics and shifting of responsibility onto young people and children by adult perpetrators," Linnell told 10 daily.

"It, therefore, follows that the actions of fans in defending their heroes can be damaging to survivors of abuse."

READ MORE: Radio Stations Pull Michael Jackson Music In 'Leaving Neverland' Backlash

Linnell said members of the public can help victims by listening to their stories and experiences, instead of trying to find someone to blame for possible guilt they may feel by continuing to engage with their art of a criminal.

"Please let's not put our favoured artists on such high pedestals in the first place, and please let's not shift responsibility for our decisions ... onto the very people who have suffered at their hands," Linnell said.

"That is a form of lateral violence that mirrors the form of the original abuse, and that we as virtual bystanders would do well to avoid."

Can we support the person's art and not the person?

"The 'jury is still out' on that one, but we definitely don't need to resort to conspiracy theories and social media campaigns in order to prop up fantasies about cult heroes," she said.

Due to social media, fans are able to access celebrities directly, and can develop a feeling of closeness -- and sometimes propriety --  towards them.

Michael Jackson fans stage a protest outside the headquarters of Channel 4 on Horseferry Road, London, ahead of the airing of the documentary Leaving Neverland. Images: Getty

"We are much more likely to draw a connection between a person’s personal life and their conduct with their specific professional output," Professor of Psychology at Curtin University, Adrian North, told 10 daily.

Some of North's research has found people respond to famous people based on whether they are considered 'heroes' (people who have made a public contribution like social justice advocates and politicians) and 'celebrities' (people who are in public life because they are entertaining).

READ MORE: The Simpsons To Pull Episode Featuring Michael Jackson's Voice

This distinction can dictate how society responds to criminal allegations against people in public life. The reaction often reflects public opinion of whether they are a 'hero' or 'celebrity'. 

The Simpsons
The Simpsons pull an episode featuring Micheal Jackson's voice.

 People who appear to have made a greater social or moral contribution to the world receive harsher social backlash.

"If a musician got a parking ticket you might expect to see a slight tail off in people consuming their work," North said.

"But when a line is crossed like an allegation against their conduct, that’s when you see people saying ‘no more, we don’t want any of this."

Contact the author skenne@networkten.com.au