Serj Tankian: ‘An Artist Isn’t Supposed to Please Everyone’


Serj Tankian. Serj Tankian says that the role of a true artist isn't to please everyone. In a new interview, he discusses the difference between an artist and entertainer.

Serj Tankian – Author Anne Erickson, Photo via George Tonikian

As the vocalist, lyricist and face of nu-metal icons System of a Down, Serj Tankian has seen it all in the music business. He’s been applauded for his poignant lyrics and creative songwriting in a genre that’s often known for being filled with cliches. He’s also been criticized for not being the “typical” rock star and instead being very active in the political sphere. But, Tankian doesn’t mind. He says that the role of a true artist isn’t to please everyone.

Serj Tankian on Being an Artist vs. Entertainer

Serj Tankian has been quite the political activist over the decades. He knows that having strong political views and voicing them isn’t always embraced in music. But, in a new interview with NPR, he discussed how he considers himself an artist more than an entertainer, so losing fans due to his activism doesn’t rattle him.

“I’m okay with that because an artist isn’t supposed to please everyone,” Tankian said in the interview. “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?”

He added that there’s nothing wrong with being an “entertainer.” It’s just not for him.

“If you’re an entertainer, that’s cool; there’s many entertainers I follow and love,” he said. “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.”

Speaking of members of System of a Down with extreme political beliefs, Tankian’s brother-in-law and the band’s drummer, John Dolmayan, has made public statements supporting right-wing beliefs, which are not in line with Tankian’s beliefs. That said, Tankian says he’s “more of the activist in the band than anyone else.”

“There was always this push and pull between the message and the music,” Serj Tankian added in the interview. “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 a separate interview with Radio New Zealand (transcribed by, Tankian discussed overzealous fans. “I’m not always cognizant of my surroundings as far as security, but I try to be, if for nothing else than just for privacy purposes. There have been some scary moments. Yeah, I try to stay on top of it. There are things I’ve had investigated, when I needed to and whatnot, but so far, so good.”

When asked if those “scary moments” were from people reacting to something he sang, Tankian said, “That is mostly on socials. I don’t know if it was Jon Stewart [American comedian, writer, producer, director, political commentator, actor and television host] or someone else who said, ‘But Twitter is not a real place.’ I don’t gauge it as true human reaction, one to one, unless you would say the same thing to my face on the street in person. That’s what I gauge as a true human reaction.”

Serj Tankian is doing the press rounds to promote his new memoir, “Down with the System,” which dropped a week ago. System of a Down aren’t the most active band these days, but the guys do have a headlining stint at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 17.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Metal, Music, Rock, Rock News