“There’s corrupt leaders and warmongers all over the world, where do you draw the line?” Imagine Dragons respond to scathing Serj Tankian comments, defend Israel and Azerbaijan shows

Imagine Dragons and Serj Tankian onstage in 2023
(Image credit: Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Tyler Robinson Foundation | Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Imagine Dragons have defended their recent shows in Azerbaijan and Israel, the former of which drew heavy condemnation from System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian.

Tankian sent the pop-rock band a letter last year, when they were planning to play at the Baku Olympic Stadium in September, hoping to dissuade them due to the actions of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev.

The Armenian-American nu metal singer believed that the concert “would help whitewash the dictatorial regime’s image”.

He also called attention to an Associated Press report, which contained a warning from a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, saying that Azerbaijan was preparing for genocide against ethnic Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Imagine Dragons seemingly ignored Tankian’s letter and proceeded with the Baku gig on September 2, which the vocalist scathingly responded to in a recent Metal Hammer interview.

“Look, I’m not a judge for people to tell bands where to play, or where not to play,” he told journalist Paul Brannigan.

“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. But some artists do. And I don’t know what to say about those artists.

Tankian finished: “I don’t respect them as human beings. Fuck their art, they’re not good human beings, as far as I’m concerned.”

Now, talking to Rolling Stone, Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds has defended the band’s decision to play in Baku, as well as their choice to perform in Tel Aviv, Israel, on August 29 last year.

“I don’t believe in depriving our fans who want to see us play because of the acts of their leaders and their governments,” the vocalist says.

“I think that’s a really slippery slope. I think the second you start to do that, there’s corrupt leaders and warmongers all over the world, and where do you draw the line?”

Rolling Stone’s journalist Andy Greene then specifically mentions Tankian’s comment. Reynolds briefly doubles down on his stance in response.

“I think I just said it,” he says. “It’s a slippery slope, and I’m never going to deprive our fans of playing for them.”

Tankian put out his new memoir, Down With The System, on May 14 via Hachette Books, while Imagine Dragons released new album Loom on June 28 via Interscope.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.