I am still working and thinking and writing my way through the ambivalence I possess about the relationship people like me — terminally online, 40-ish and once stans of Kanye West — have with Kanye West today. Is he a zeitgeist-steering demagogue? Or do we overstate his present-day influence in large part because we know that a pithy tweet about why Kanye sucks is guaranteed social capital? I lean toward the latter.
Sure, Kanye (who legally changed his name to “Ye” but will stay “Kanye” here for continuity’s sake) says and does things that are dumb, ignorant, ill formed, inaccurate, unsound, unhinged, untethered, misogynistic, anti-Black and antisemitic. But — and admittedly it feels odd to say “but” after that litany of defects — I think we sometimes conflate platform and influence. Despite his cultural ubiquity, I just don’t see how Kanye, in 2022, is still influential enough to sway or even slightly nudge people’s opinions on … anything other than Gap Inc.’s annual report. No one takes him seriously — not even the bad faith right-leaning platforms and people desperate, breathless to amplify him, ecstatic that finally someone with a Q Score above hell is on their side. Their relationship is predicated on symbiotic thirst. He’s thirsty for someone, anyone, to validate his current bluster, and they’re thirsty for Black mouthpieces to validate their hate.
My cynicism about the performance and commodification of outrage might have created a blind spot, though. I see how he’s a danger to himself, and to the people around him. I just don’t see how he’s a danger to the larger culture. But me not seeing a thing doesn’t negate its existence, and I might just be wrong.
I am unambivalent however — so thoroughly unambivalent — on one thing: Kanye is a bore.
Kanye used to be my favorite artist and still might actually be because his old music is my favorite music. And I have been trying, for several years, to find the word(s) to encapsulate what he stirs in me now when I’m reading or watching one of his interviews or attempting to decipher one of his tweets. Much of his recent behavior — not necessarily his politics, but his actions — can be attributed to his bipolar disorder, which he has talked and rapped about frequently. (This feels controversial to say aloud, because of our tendency to use likability as a gauge to decide whether we believe if a person is truly mentally ill.) But a reason is not an excuse. It’s just a reason. And so I feel pity and sadness and disappointment, but there’s something else. It finally calcified when I watched the first part of his recent interview with Tucker Carlson — and I found myself nodding off halfway through.
To be fair, it was late-ish (11:30 p.m.), but I’m a night owl who’s regularly up at 2 a.m. So of course an interview with a provocative firebrand should be interesting enough to keep my eyes open. And, of course, during the interview, he said provocative things about provocative things he’s done, like his choice, for instance, to wear a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt during Paris Fashion Week.
But what happened — what’s been happening — is that his words and actions float on the veneer of provocation. It’s telegraphed instigation. And the politics at their core mirror the worst of White people’s, the worst of wealthy people’s, the worst of men’s, the worst of Christians’ and even the worst of college freshmen’s. I’m familiar with each, and they’re all so rote, so common, so boring. There’s nothing radical about anti-Blackness and nothing subversive about misogyny. Antisemitism is literally thousands of years old. Those who feign being captivated by him consider him a political vanguard. But he’s more like a velociraptor.
There’s nothing radical about anti-Blackness and nothing subversive about misogyny.
You’d think, at the very least, that the man who altered the sound of popular music with “The College Dropout,” and then changed it again with “808s & Heartbreak,” would be creative with his biases. Instead of, for instance, blaming Jewish people for controlling the world’s finances, blame Canadians. Rant on Instagram about the Peace Bridge and the Canadian dollar exchange rate. Partner with Balenciaga to drop Nova Scotian Lives Don’t Matter tees. Smack Justin Bieber. That would be interesting. That would be radical. Radically stupid, sure. But still radical. Instead, his politics are modeled after the boring-est possible person: a straight white Christian bigot.
I am still invested in the conversations we have about him, his status, his illness and his legacy. How does his behavior affect how we assess his old music? Are we over- (or under-) stating the danger of his words? How should we react to people who are both mentally ill and causing harm? What’s an appropriate consequence for them? Do we have a responsibility to completely disengage? So many interesting questions. But listening to him speak? Today? I’d rather watch paint rap.