“I just think he’s an idiot, he’s just a waste, he’s a toolbox. And you know what, he’s getting exactly what he wants right now because people are talking about him.”
That is a quote about Kanye West. The unlikely source of it was the singer and performer Pink. Matt Lauer, who has a history of narrating televised scandalous Kanye segments under his belt, interviewed her about a tweet in response to his treatment of Taylor Swift as she accepted a statue at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. She wrote, “Kanye west is the biggest piece of shit on earth. Quote me.” It was retweeted 2,101 times.
The Kanye interruption went like this: “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
Kanye had confidently walked on stage and disrespected a woman, who stood there stunned at his outburst just the same as the seated woman for whom it was supposedly in service. Outraged that Beyoncé had been defeated for an award by the country pop singer, he had taken down a seemingly easy target – a fragile white teenager – but instead found a chart-topping powerhouse and her backlash army waiting to mock his interruption and his ego.
It was four years after and a million miles away from his shaky TV critique of the Bush Administration’s shitty and undoubtedly racist handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In that moment on MTV, standing next to the actor Mike Myers who desperately tried to stay on script, Kanye admitted he had been shopping before he had donated to the cause, and had called his manager to correct his mistake.
The anger and criticism seemed to dawn on him in that moment and he took action. It was not with deliberation and thoughtfulness that Kanye broadcast his message and so, as true as it might have been, it was not taken seriously but is often repeated as a defanged greatest hit moment: George Bush doesn’t care about black people. Chris Tucker’s gigantic eyes brilliantly and instantly appeared in a cut away shot. The president, who was later asked about it by, you guessed it, Matt Lauer, accepted Kanye’s semi-apology, given to, yup, Matt Lauer. All highly orchestrated to say the least.
Now it’s time for take three. It is with this in mind that I consider the Kanye we have presently, as I had hoped to find his experience had matured his political sensibilities. With his new album, Yeezus, and it’s number one debut on the Billboard chart, Kanye beats out Drake’s recent sales record and barely trails Justin Timberlake – setting the stage to blow away competition in multifaceted solo male producing performers of the pop culture world. Kanye’s depth of knowledge and breadth of musical acts, references and mash ups make him a curatorial mastermind, and so Yeezus draws the musical admiration from many people across a spectrum for its category defying intricacies.
But when it comes to his message, this album does not deliver. Granted, it channels the compounding anger that Kanye’s audience feels at authority and a broken world that enslaves, and that part is not a bad thing. However, one must act as an opposite in order to effectually oppose, and his anger often seems misplaced.
Yeezus directs a powerful rage at women in a time when the world is handling the societal advancement of us quite poorly. Rape culture abounds, and for some, is legitimized by the pop culture world’s watered down hyper-sexualized and violent imagery. If Kanye’s beats and musical genius are ahead of his time, his message is not – it’s the same primitive misogynistic pulse beating in the information age. What a waste.
For a man who timed the release of his record with the birth of his biracial daughter, a child whose mother is the world’s most famous reality TV star, it seems to me that this is a truly missed opportunity to challenge authority and perceptions of blackness/whiteness and pervasive gender bias with meaningful and lasting permanence. It would also require that Kanye cared to, and he may not feel it’s his responsibility. But whose responsibility is it and what exactly do we expect of our pop culture icons?
While it may seem genius to use every celebrity rag against itself to promote his new record through the birth-obsessed magazine industrial complex, Kanye is also mainlining the message to millions of women everywhere via the Kim Kardashian brand that, she, a beautiful, wealthy and powerful woman, legitimizes his misogyny and plays an active role.
Dare I say too, that the magazines covering his record release fear challenging Kanye’s anti-authority message and appearing racist, and so women get thrown under the bus because this type of misogyny, from him, is tolerable to them.
To me, Kanye seems too wrapped up in his own victimhood within our racist, oppressive world and his ego blinds him to how that same system mistreats everybody else too, especially women, ALL women. To make such derogatory remarks about us only aligns him with the same oppressive sentiment as the racist patriarchal authority he rallies against. Remember this MLK quote? “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Yet despite all his experience with lady-based backlash, Kanye has acted once again without deliberate and thoughtful action when it comes to showing respect for women –Yeezus makes it incredibly clear that he hasn’t learned his lesson – and he will once again prove to be the biggest barrier to attaining the moral pedestal he seeks with his latest effort.
Taking his anger out about it on women in such a hypocritical way makes it seem obvious that at its core, Yeezus is a public cry for attention to the trauma Kanye feels. It makes sense for a man who suddenly lost his mother, and is likely terrified of being the father of an already famous daughter on the international media stage.
A bastion of his better side, the Kanye West Foundation, a center for literacy and educational philanthropy, became The Dr. Donda West Foundation in 2008 following the death of Dr. West, but shuttered in 2011, marking the second ending of his mother’s strong female leadership in Kanye’s life. The lasting impression left by the horrifying HollywoodLife.com: “Kanye has a personal vendetta against elective procedures after his 58-year-old mom Donda — with whom he was super close — died in 2007 from complications following some cosmetic procedures she had done.”
Kanye, for all his pain over losing his mother, comes out the other end promoting himself in rags that make women feel like they need plastic surgery to be desirable? What about all the magazines that create the desire for the plastic surgery industry that took his mother? Once again, Kanye misses the root of the problem. So we’re left with Kanye’s big insistence of ‘no post-pregnancy plastic surgery for you, Kim!’ What a waste.
In a statement before she gave birth, Kim told the media, “I’m so excited we’re having a girl. Who doesn’t want a girl? They are the best and I know that’s always what Kanye has wanted. He wanted a little girl.”
Yet, the sentiment I’ve heard most frequently since the release of Yeezus is, “I feel sorry for North West.”
Just as those folks expected more from a new father of a baby daughter, I expected more from a pop culture icon with this immense amount of power railing against authority in the information age. Some more MLK for you: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
What, if any, are our expectations of pop culture propaganda in our modern day? To me they seem incredibly low. If you want my prediction, I say don’t be surprised if Kanye calls his manager to correct his latest mistake.