I Have Little Sympathy For Kanye West
[Editor's Note: Reposted with permission from The Lefsetz Letter, subscribe via Lefsetz.com.]
The press gave this blowhard a pass but now the public has put him in retreat. He gets out and...?
I know, I know, we're supposed to have sympathy for the mentally ill. But we're also supposed to recognize psychiatric problems and steer the person to treatment—we did not do that, we stood by idly as this inane insane man whipsawed through our media until he blew himself up.
I, for one, have little sympathy.
I could commit heresy and say he's just not that talented.
I'll let you decide.
But I will say him screaming how he was ignored in fashion, how he wasn't embraced by other businesses—Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever and he couldn't make it in baseball. I know of no CEOs who can make it on the hardwood. Why should Kanye West get a pass? Why do we have to listen to the drivel that comes out of his mouth? You're lucky if you can do one thing well, never mind at a world class level. But in truth, Kanye was selling merch. The mark of a fashion king or queen is when someone buys the item on style as opposed to brand name. I don't think that ever happened with Kanye's limited production items. But somehow, he was lionized as a fashion icon too, when the truth is he was just selling souvenirs.
I'm not saying he's not an innovator. Charging people to see your clothing, to show a video? That's genius if you think art is about commerce, something music and movies believe is now the holy grail. It doesn't matter whether a track or a flick is good, just whether it makes bank. Come on, when the Top Ten and weekend grosses are trumpeted in every medium known to man do you think it's not going to impact the culture? The Beatles never bragged about their number ones, but in a different era Mariah Carey rings the bell and can't stop talking about it. Is that how far we've fallen, when it comes to art we can only talk about statistics? Does everything have to be weighed this way? I guess it does, in a media where lists are everything because they garner eyeballs.
Now Kanye won't be inside forever. The goal of the hospital today is to stabilize you and get you out as quickly as possible. Then again, they're restricted by insurance payments, whereas Kanye can pay cash. But really, the days of locking people up for years are passé. Kanye's gonna be on the street soon. Then what?
We gave Owen Wilson some space, respected his troubles, he attempted suicide and when he was released...crickets. Proving that the media can do the right thing, that not everything is grist for the mill.
But Kanye thrived on publicity.
But then he became Icarus and flew too close to the sun.
Marrying Kim... I blame her, she's a social climber. That basketball star wasn't big enough for her. And when Kanye fades, and they all fade, except for Max Martin, will she cashier him, trade him in? I think so. Her brand is built upon publicity, the media is complicit, and when people stop paying attention, she shakes it up.
But at least she's famous for nothing. We can dismiss Kim Kardashian out of hand. But Kanye?
Credit Obama for calling him a jackass after the Taylor Swift ridiculousness. Barry was excoriated for it, but at least he was being genuine, he was speaking the truth, which is how the Donald won and Hillary lost. Save me the e-mail about Trump's lies, his SUPPORTERS, who got him ELECTED, believed in him and he certainly broke taboos, all the inside the beltway people said you couldn't say that, but he did, and the reporters said Trump was toast and they were wrong, they seemingly always get it wrong and they want our trust?
And Kanye, an African-American, who said George Bush didn't care about black people, he comes out for Donald Trump? The day Donald Trump is good for the black people is the day Adolf Hitler is good for the Jews. Trump may not want to kill blacks, but a lot of his supporters do. And when the rich get richer, history tells us the poor are left behind.
But Kanye isn't poor anymore!
And then Kanye pissed upon his contemporaries, Jay Z and Beyoncé, et al. What did they do to him? That's when you sever a friendship when you're attacked for no reason. And Kanye miscalculated, he didn't know they were more beloved than he!
And speaking of miscalculation, Kanye thought anything he said goes. That people would follow him willy-nilly anywhere. But it turns out THEY WON'T!
That's the big story here, the wisdom and power of the crowd.
I'll argue all day long that the right wing labeled Hillary Clinton unfairly. But I'm hard pressed to say her status quo agenda made me hopeful. Bernie Sanders may have promulgated policies that had no chance of passing but at least he channeled people's frustration and spoke the truth. But the media blasted Bernie and said hosannas for Hillary. Meanwhile, Trump sneaked to victory between them.
So does Kanye come back and do the same act? If so, it's on us to reject it. For the media to cry foul, which it won't do, because he brings eyeballs and they're selling ads. But the public? Kanye won't be instantly embraced. That's what none of these pop stars realize, that no one's forever, everybody's just grist for the mill.
So what is wrong with Kanye?
Nothing serious, I'm sure. He's just a raving egomaniac in a country populated by them. Not only Trump, but every billionaire believes he too can be president. When we speak of 2020 we hear names like Mark Cuban, even basketball coach Steve Kerr. Because it's become a popularity contest, no one ponders the fact that the president has to govern. Then again, we're all about lifting the two-dimensional prophets. Everybody who does the hard work is a chump, at least in the eyes of the media. Clean a toilet? Teach a class? You're just a taker we can do without. As for the immigrants picking fruit and doing menial labor? They're taking our jobs and screwing the American economy. Huh? That's not true, every American wants to be Kanye!
That's right, deep in the heart of the uneducated is the belief they too can be a rapper, get on a reality TV show, they're just a shot away from fame.
And it's not much better amongst the educated. Every college graduate believes they can write an app and be a billionaire. Steve Jobs is their hero and if Evan Spiegel can make it, so can they. Is it any wonder that Evan Spiegel is engaged to Miranda Kerr? Used to be techies were geeks, social misfits, but now they want to be entertainers and the entertainers want to be geeks and I'm stuck in the middle with you, wondering what happened to our country.
Make a record. Cut a hit song. That's the only thing that can bring you back. You believed your own press, you thought you were a cultural wunderkind. But the truth is you're second-rate in other spheres. Never forget what brought you here.
I'm all for it, other than the social networks it's the only way to reach people. But your opinion ain't worth much if you don't vote, like Kanye. You don't get an opinion if you stay out of the game. Pick a side and advocate for it. And if some of the public rejects you?
Kanye just couldn't take it. He's a crybaby. And when the people who bought tickets and merch, who supported every move, were pissed on by him, the backlash began.
Kanye could have apologized, made some lame excuse. But he just couldn't believe people didn't love him that much, wouldn't follow him anywhere. And why should he? He interrupts the VMAs and MTV is thrilled, it's a magic moment when the truth is he should have been banned, like Andrew Dice Clay in '92, because there are rules and if you don't obey them...
But it turns out the rules just apply to the little people. The winners break them. Whether it be Trump not paying taxes or corporations keeping profits overseas. And we can debate the legality of these moves all day long, but the truth is these entities are testing limits, pushing boundaries, they're not playing by the spirit of the game.
Used to be musicians tested limits.
But now they're afraid because they're brands and they don't want to tarnish their image. Did Jackson Pollock not drip because the people couldn't handle it? Did Bob Dylan continue to make protest music because that's what the people wanted? Did John Lennon not reveal his inner pain? OF COURSE NOT! THEY FOLLOWED THEIR HEART! AND WERE WILLING TO ENDURE THE CONSEQUENCES!
No artist is willing to endure the consequences anymore, which is why they play it safe, work with Max Martin and the usual suspects. Come on, Max made those Taylor Swift and The Weeknd hits, he's the star. Let's see the acts do it by themselves.
The public is looking for people to believe in. They need spiritual food, not salesmen. But what they keep getting is charlatans, propped up as heroes.
You win some, you lose some. Kanye just lost one.
He could lick his wounds and say mea culpa, but he won't! Because he's been raised in a culture where you double down and don't admit fault. But that era's coming to an end. Life is just too hard. We're all human.
Kanye, get better. But if you come out the same man, I'm out. And everybody else will be too. Take us on a new journey, an aural adventure that titillates us, that's not about the press story but the music. And forget the clothing, the penumbra, don't you have enough money? Money won't buy you love.
Kim Kardashian was ripped off in Paris and people thought it was fake just like her TV show, done for ratings. Kanye insulted his audience and people rejected him. The rules don't change, just the people. And without the people you're nobody. They're the correction factor.
By Bob Lefsetz. Reprinted with permission from The Lefsetz Letter, subscribe via Lefsetz.com.
Art Credit: Jake Franssen