Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kanye West Debacle (and the Larger Issues at Stake)

I know I’ve been neglecting the blog for the past few weeks, but I’ve been busy as hell. I’m gonna try to update more frequently from now on.

Ok, so I’ve got beef. As you likely gathered from the post title, it’s with Kanye West. I know everyone’s riding the Kanye hate-train right now, and I want to get in on the fun.

So here’s the situation. Taylor Swift wins the VMA for best female video or whatever. Two sentences into her acceptance speech, Kanye runs onstage and interrupts her, since, obviously, no one was thinking of how amazing Kanye West is at the time. He grabs the mike, stammers some bullshit about how he’s happy for Taylor Swift, but you know, Beyonce’s video was just the shit.

Alright, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Pretty much everyone even vaguely in tune to music culture at this point knows that Kanye’s a self-important douche. There’s a staggering amount of evidence pointing in this direction, including his belief that he would be a major player in the modern Bible. This isn’t exactly news at this point, so what’s the big deal, right?

It’s actually kind of strange that we’re all so amazed at what he did to Taylor Swift. This is just the latest attention grab for a musician who sees himself slowly but surely fading from the public limelight, whose product has been declining in quality since 2005’s “Late Registration.” Many musicians take this transition hard, and even the best have their head-shake moments (check Pete Townshend’s last 20 years of pretentious crap for proof).

Unfortunately, Kanye is something of a different case, due in part to the changing nature of today’s music industry. The vast network of labels, producers, and musicians, along with evolving technology, have allowed artists to musically intermingle in ways that would have been thought ridiculous two decades ago. As a result, Kanye West has been involved in some way with an incredibly vast amount of material released in the past ten years. He’s shoved his puffy cheeks into virtually every major hip-hop act from the past ten years, and even before that, to a lesser extent. And, to be honest, a decent amount of this material is pretty damn good. He’s a valued and respected producer in hip-hop circles, and his record sales are perennially ridiculous.

All talent notwithstanding, though, Kanye seems to have formed a somewhat distorted vision of himself as the speaker of a generation of musicians and music listeners. While he’s certainly popular, he fails to realize the undisputable truth about the music listening public: that it will either turn on, devour, or simply forget almost any musician, no matter how popular or talented. This has happened time and again, and few artists are immune; Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson have withstood the public fury better than most, and Kanye is definitely none of the above.
The more important issue here, though, is that the public seems to have a soft spot for this man. It buys his albums, attends his concerts, and most importantly, forgives him every time he does something like this. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, I’ll admit. I love The Who, despite Pete Townshend’s alienating his fellow musicians, for just one example of many. The bottom line is that people seem to love Kanye’s music despite his rampant dickery. This seems to say that, at least in this case, people care more about the music than they do about the musician.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ll always love the music of some artists who are not exactly paragons of good personality, but at the same time, I think I would rush to defend any musician who I truly respected if he did something like Kanye has done. I guess I just want it both ways.

Anyways, the point I guess I’m getting at here is that we should at least try to stop giving people like Kanye such an attentive audience. Sure, listen to his music (if it gets any better; “808s and Heartbreak” was flat-out terrible). But at least try to ignore his cries for attention. At least that way, maybe he’ll get past this self-loving midlife crisis and stop annoying us all.


  1. "A decent amount of his material is pretty damn good"? Are you fucking kidding me? Kanye West is, without a doubt, the most consistently excellent producer in rap over the last six years. Regardless of his public persona, which is ridiculous, his artistic ability cannot be doubted.

  2. Ok, he's very good, but I don't give him as much credit as some people do. I guess I just don't like as much of his music as you do, which is fine. The point is still the same, though.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hey, you should let me know when you put more stuff up. Post it on my wall if its not too much trouble. Lucky for me, I check back here every couple of days.

    As far as the incident goes, outside of Kanye, I was really impressed with Beyonce and how she handled the situation. Giving up her speech so Taylor Swift could finish hers was very humbling. I have a huge amount of respect for her as a person now.