With the current controversy surrounding Marco Borsato, ESHCC media scientist Simone Driessen, publishes an article contextualising the challenges fans face. What happens if your favourite artist gets cancelled? Can you remain a fan after such a controversy? In her study, Simone, explores how fans of Marco Borsato negotiate their fannish position and practices after the cancellation of their idol.
In December 2021, rumours started that he was accused of grooming and sexual assault of a (back then) 15-year-old female. At the age of 22, the woman decided to officially accuse Borsato of indecent behaviour. About a month ago, an official court case was announced. It is yet to be determined what the outcome of this legal process will be. After the initial accusation, more followed, yet in 2023, the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that some of these will not be prosecuted. Still, Marco Borsato’s music was banned by Dutch radio stations, his wax figure at Madame Tussauds-museum in Amsterdam was removed, and he had to stop his ambassador role for NGO War Child. Borsato was undeniably canceled, by Dutch media, the media industry, and ‘the public’.
By analysing data from twelve interviews with fans and online comments on Borsato-fan pages, Simone discovered the complexity of being a fan of a canceled artist, in this case Marco Borsato. The findings reveal how some of these fans navigate the everyday political and cultural consequences of being a(n ex-)fan in this situation, while others dismiss the claim against Borsato. Some fans told Simone that they would keep committed to their fandom under the guide of innocent-until-proven-guilty, while others are more careful in publicly expressing their fandom after the allegations.
Multiple interviewees expressed how they view(ed) Marco Borsato as family friendly, they got to know him via their parents for example or listened to his music with their family. Online, fans consider Borsato’s demeanor as ‘warm’, ‘friendly’, ‘family man’, and they call him a ‘good father’ or refer to the fact that he ‘has children himself’. One interviewee even attributes Borsato as a national hero:
“If you don’t take into consideration all that happened recently, then I could really see him as an example. A father-like figure, but also someone who really is able to bring people together through his music. Like a national hero, or a folk hero. I think he would’ve gone into the history books as a great man who contributed a lot to Dutch national history.”
However, this group of determined fans seem to be outnumbered by those who show their doubts and by those who feel more conflicted about the situation. One interviewee for example said:
“… When the news broke (about the case), it felt a bit wrong to listen to his music. […] We were with a group of friends and one of his songs came on and we were like ‘nice’, but actually it’s not done to play his music now. […] If you listen to hist music, he benefits financially. So, that’s enabling him again, like buying Russian oil.”
Fans mentioned that they want to learn more about the situation (officially, from the artist). This insecurity about whether he is innocent or guilty leads them to reconsider their fandom. For many of them, this leads to making their fandom more private, to display their awareness and give a signal to victims involved.
Simone’s study contributes to an understanding of cancel culture and its consequences. Academically, there is still little known about fans whose fandom has come to an end due to illegal, immoral, or abhorrent acts by the object of fandom. Which is what motivated Simone to study this particular phenomenon. Although this specific case addresses a portrayal of personal politics on a small scale and in a specific community, we can see the potential of the ‘playful’ modes of participants and lessons learned through this study.