‘F*ck their art’: Why is System of a Down singer Serj Tankian lambasting Imagine Dragons?

‘F*ck their art’: Why is System of a Down singer Serj Tankian lambasting Imagine Dragons?

Last year, System of Down’s frontman Serj Tankian warned Imagine Dragons about performing in Azerbaijan.

He had penned an open letter to the pop-rock band, asking for them not to play in the capital Baku, accusing the country of “crimes against humanity” for their military actions which he described as a looming “genocide”.

Tankian warned at the time that the band’s performance could “help whitewash the dictatorial regime’s image” and that committing to the show despite what was going on in the region would have “a negative impact” on Imagine Dragon’s brand.

“I’m confident that you can decipher all the facts for yourselves to decide whether to cancel your concert.”

At the time, AP news reported that a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had warned that Azerbaijan was preparing a full-scale genocide against ethnic Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Tankian wasn’t the only musician to call for the concert’s cancellation: Roger Waters, Brian Eno, and Thurston Moore all pushed for Imagine Dragons to pull out of the show.

“Performing in Baku under these circumstances, regardless of intent, can only help the government of Azerbaijan cover up its crimes,” read a section of an open letter they shared last August.

Serj Tankian of System Of A Down on stage - 2019
Serj Tankian of System Of A Down on stage - 2019 - Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Imagine Dragons decided to go ahead and play the show, and Tankian has stated in a recent interview that they’re “not good human beings".

When asked by Metal Hammer about his feelings after Imagine Dragona still played the gig in Baku last September, Tankian responded: “I don’t know these guys, but who are these people? I don’t understand that type of thinking. Very close thereafter, Azerbaijan attacked the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and 120,000 people left their historical homes.”

He continued: “Look, I’m not a judge for people to tell bands where to play, or where not to play. You have other artists playing in very questionable kingdoms, run by one person, where people don’t have a lot of human rights, and I get that they’re doing it for money, that they’re artists, that they’re entertaining, all of that. But when there’s a government that’s about to commit ethnic cleansing, when Azerbaijan was starving the 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and not allowing any food or medicine in… you know, as an artist, if I found that out, there is no fucking way I could have gone and played that show.”

Tankian went on to say that he didn’t know what to say to artists that do play these shows. “I don’t respect them as human beings. Fuck their art, they’re not good human beings, as far as I’m concerned.”

He concluded: “If you are that blind to justice that you will go play a show in a country that’s starving another country, illegally, according to the International Court of Justice, according to what Amnesty International is saying, what Human Rights Watch is saying… If you still go and play that country, I don’t know what to say about you as a fucking human being. I don’t even care about your music. If you’re a bad human being, I don’t give a fuck. So that’s where I’m at with that. I have zero respect for those guys.”

Imagine Dragons have not yet responded to any of the comments made by Tankian or their musical peers.

System of a Down have long spoken out against Azerbaijan and released a song in 2020 in order to raise money for the “serious war being perpetrated upon our cultural homelands of Artsakh and Armenia” by Azerbaijan.

As for Tankian, he has always been open about his political activism, stating in an interview with NPR that he was aware and comfortable with the fact that his beliefs might cost him fans.

“I’m okay with that because an artist isn’t supposed to please everyone,” Tankian said. “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. From day one, you have to make that choice: Are you an entertainer only or are you going to be an artist?”