Still, #CancelKanye remains a popular hashtag — so, is it possible that West’s recent political antics might diminish his career?
The most effective way to cancel a musician would be to not listen to his music. So how popular is West these days?
He has released eight solo albums and two collaborations since 2004. His most recent album, “Ye,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his eighth No. 1 record. And all seven of its tracks debuted in the Top 40, to boot.
Those stats might sound overwhelmingly impressive, but it’s important to temper them. It’s now easier to have an album — particularly a short one — have a great initial showing on the charts because of Billboard’s ever-changing criteria for counting streamed songs. That means a strong fan base can launch an album to the top for a brief time.
That may be what has happened, because the last time West was involved with a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 songs was in 2011, when he was featured on Katy Perry’s “E.T.” His second-most-recent No. 1 track came more than a decade ago, in 2007, with “Stronger.”
Given that West’s commercial career was already arguably in decline, it’s difficult to pinpoint how his recent public persona might affect him, but several experts said that his general fan base, annoyed and fatigued and angry as it might be, probably won’t be the ones to carry a grudge.
“He can bounce back. Him reneging and actually making a harsh criticism of Trump on immigration will earn many of his fans back‚” said Tommy Curry, a professor of Africana philosophy at Texas A&M University and American Book Award winner for “The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood.” Given West’s recent statements, “there’s no reason to believe that the black community at large won’t see some sympathy or resonance with him . . . what you see on Twitter is the black left, the black pseudo-intellectuals making these #CancelKanye arguments, but I think in most of the black community he will still have a coherent fan base.”
Curry said those fans will see not only that West might have a mental illness — the rapper has said he suffers from bipolar disorder, though he later said he was misdiagnosed — but also that “the reality is he has shown that he is able to be influenced, he is able to be mentored, and he is constantly listening and learning.” West, after all, has long been fairly inconsistent in his political beliefs, according to Susan Weinstein, a Louisiana State University professor of hip-hop studies and author of “Feel These Words: Writing in the Lives of Urban Youth.” She pointed to his first two records, which are filled with adoring songs about his mother alongside misogynistic tracks.
“His inconsistency benefits him,” Weinstein said, pointing out that fans will probably just shrug off his antics as “Kanye being Kanye.”
“The public has a really deep relationship with Kanye, and people want him to be okay,” she said. “It’s almost like he’s our collective son, our collective brother.”
Part of that derives from his openness with his fans through his career: speaking and rapping about his mental illness, his insecurities, his marriage, his closeness to his mother and her death after undergoing an elective surgery that he paid for. After she died, West openly cried on “The Jay Leno Show.”
“There is a vast well of sympathy for him,” Weinstein said. “If he stops saying stupid things and wearing a MAGA hat, people will be ready to reembrace him.”
The media, though, might be much more difficult to win back.
West’s recent behavior “probably won’t have a commercial impact, and it certainly won’t lower his level of notoriety. Consumers tend to view these kind of conflicts with a degree of distance, almost as if they’re extensions of marketing,” cultural critic Chuck Klosterman told The Post. “But it will irrevocably alter the way he is perceived by the media, and that will change the way certain subcultures choose to hear his albums.”
Hyden agreed. West “has poisoned the press against him,” which is somewhat problematic because “the media, over the course of his career, has been really supportive of Kanye and acted as a cheerleader of him. And you’ve really seen that turn in the past year or so.”
But does the average person care what the media thinks? Curry doesn’t think so: “I just don’t think that the everyday person really cares what MSNBC is saying about Kanye.”
Still, West’s musical popularity has waned. But many artists, such as Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young, grow older only to find their records selling fewer copies and receiving weaker reviews than they’re accustomed to. What keeps these careers alive is the ability to pack a stadium with adoring fans who want to hear the old hits.
“Kanye was at the center of pop music for a long time, longer than a lot of people. But that doesn’t last forever for anybody, and I think he’s clearly moved past that part of his career now,” Hyden said, adding that he could “enter the stage of life Jay-Z is at now . . . the classic rock version of rap. Kanye could have that kind of career if he wanted to, if he wanted to do a greatest hits tour and play arenas.”
This, though, might be the place where his erratic behavior could sink him.
Steve Knopper, the author of “Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age,” said that if West wanted to have a career playing the old hits, he would actually have to play them. That wasn’t the case in 2016, when he began going on strange, long political rants during his shows before eventually canceling the entire tour.
Those actions led to a $10 million insurance battle with Lloyd’s, which paints West as something of a risk.
“If you’re talking about Kanye sustaining his career commercially going forward, touring is unquestionably important. But if he comes back and has another tour, he has to be a reliable touring act,” Knopper said.
If he reemerges as a reliable act, especially if he manages to put out one more excellent album, Knopper thinks he has a chance. “A comeback is very potent, and redemption is something the public responds to,” he said.
West is “probably the one rapper that 80-year-old people know. I think everybody knows his name,” Hyden said.
Which, in a way, makes him too big to disappear — at least completely.
“I don’t see him having another big hit,” Hyden said. “But I think that’s more because of his age and how long he’s been around than the political stuff.”