Art has always been political—but the business of being an artist has perhaps never depended more on taking political stances than right now.
On Sunday, December 24, Lorde canceled her upcoming Tel Aviv tour date after pressure from the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Days before, on December 20, two BDS advocates from New Zealand urged the singer in an open letter to reconsider her decision to perform in Israel.
“People often will say that the Israel-Palestine debacle is melodrama that dates back millennia,” the two women—one Jewish and one Palestinian—wrote. “Thing is, like with a lot of situations of oppression, it’s actually quite straightforward once you start hearing about what’s really happening.”
In her statement, reported by The Jerusalem Post’s Amy Spiro, Lorde wrote, “i’ve received an overwhelming number of messages & letters and have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and i think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show.” She added:
“I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and i had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in tel aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit i didn’t make the right call on this one.”
Lorde isn’t the first artist to join the cultural boycott of Israel; Lauryn Hill also did so in 2015, and as did Elvis Costello in 2010. The movement, as the women explain in their open letter to Lorde, wants to model itself after the cultural and economic boycotts against South Africa, which took aim at the country’s apartheid.
It’s not quite there yet. Right now, many more artists play in Israel than choose to take a stance against it. Some disagree with the very concept of a boycott: Radiohead dominated headlines earlier this year with their angry-old-man attitude toward calls for them not to play in Israel. And Amy Spiro, the reporter at The Jerusalem Post, tweeted a long list of artists who have come through Tel Aviv despite the ongoing conflict with Palestine. By contrast, a handful of artists who have cancelled Israel tour dates over the past 10 years doesn’t feel like much.
But that could change; the way Lorde responded to pro-Palestine advocates shows that artists—especially, maybe, younger ones—might actually care what it means to play in Israel. She is definitely one of the most popular artists to visibly pull out of a concert in solidarity with Palestine. Whether or not others follow, one thing is for sure: The pressure to do so is mounting.