What's really behind our love/hate fascination with Kanye West?
theGrio OPINION - The moment Kanye West almost stole from Beck during Sunday night’s GRAMMY ceremony revealed the power that Kanye West still has—to raise our eyebrows and make us look at each other and say, “Did he just do that?!”
The moment Kanye West almost stole from Beck during Sunday night’s GRAMMY ceremony revealed the power that Kanye West still has—to raise our eyebrows and make us look at each other and say, “Did he just do that?!”
After the indie rock artist Beck received the Album of the Year award at the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards, beating out Beyoncé, Kanye West approached Beck on the stage. For a moment, it looked like he was going to grab the mic and say that Beyoncé should have won, which is exactly what he did at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. During that ceremony, he grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift after she won for Best Female Video and righteously declared that Beyoncé should have won because “Single Ladies” was “one of the best videos of all time.”
After the ceremony, Kanye told reporters that he had indeed almost stormed the stage because he felt that Queen Bey should have won. Public response to this “almost incident” was mixed. Some said that this was proof that Kanye is and will always be out of control, while many just laughed, saying that Kanye will be Kanye. Still others theorized that it was a publicity stunt that the GRAMMYs supported to give the ceremony a viral moment.
Regardless of public response, this scenario showed Yeezy in his full glory, reminding us of why we have a love-hate relationship with him. Like a modern day prophet, he’s quick to call out society’s wrongs and his own—yet continues to sin just the same.
Before Kanye West was a household name, he sold beats to local artists, which led him to producing hits with Nas and Jay-Z. His debut album, The College Dropout, catapulted him into the public eye in 2004. He was compelling because of his willingness to tackle social issues in his music. His hit song, “Jesus Walks,” spoke about our country’s war against “terrorism,” black people’s war against racism and classism, and the perennial war within ourselves—to do what’s right even when it seems that wrong will help us win. Kanye came spitting truth, proclaiming his and our collective need for Jesus to save us. And when he performed it at the GRAMMYs we collectively shouted, “Amen!” giving West celebrity status and three awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song.
2005 introduced the Kanye that we love to hate. West’s off script declaration during a live benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” created a fiery public backlash. The media ripped him, and Kanye was cornered into an apology. But however wrong he was to choose that moment to speak his mind, he said what a lot of other black folk were thinking. It was raw, real, and to some—admirable.
It was Kanye’s vulnerability, though, that saved him from eternal damnation in America’s eyes. His appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno showed a man whom we had never seen before—humbled and speechless. He confessed that he had been in a fog since his mother’s untimely death. Who couldn’t forgive his VMA tirade after this? And who couldn’t relate to the love that he showed, first for his mom in his song, “Hey Mama,” and recently in “Only One,” written about his daughter North West? In a culture that requires masculinity to look one way, it was refreshing to see Kanye publicly show such heartfelt emotion.
Kanye has and will always be rap’s redeemed one, as his “wrongs” are always overlooked, allowing him to live in a hypocrisy that few others are allowed to reside. He raps about the savageness and greed of the diamond industry in “Diamonds from Sierre Leone,” yet rocks his diamond encrusted necklaces in performances. We don’t call out his hypocrisy because he calls it out first. Unlike many of us, he’s not afraid to admit his faults. That’s what makes him different. And like us, he is a snapshot of flawed humanity; to dismiss him would be to dismiss ourselves. To forgive him is to forgive ourselves.
Kimye? Yes, it’s hard to imagine how a socially conscious rapper like Kanye could couple with the likes of a “I’m famous-for-a-sextape-and-nothing-more” non-black reality TV star like Kim Kardashian, but he did. Perhaps Jesus’ words can help us here: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
West is everything we want to be (uberly creative and equally successful), and everything we’re told not be (cocky, brash and self-aggrandizing). We love him because he gets to do things we wish we could do, (like say, “F*** you!” to the press), yet continue to get press.
In his own words, “I know I act a fool.” And yet even when that happens, he’s always allowed to get back up again. This is a luxury that a lot of black artists aren’t afforded. Across the board, people of color are made to feel like they have to play nice and not ruffle any feathers in order to preserve their careers. But West’s imperfections don’t ever seem to negate his worthiness. He clearly doesn’t subscribe to respectability politics and there is something quietly empowering about that.
When Beck was asked how he felt about West jumping on the stage with him at last week’s GRAMMYs, he honestly replied, “I still love him and think he’s genius. I aspire to what he does.”
And that sentiment pretty much sums it up.
Whether you hate to love him or love to hate him, it’s nearly impossible dismiss the power of Yeezy.
Follow Chanté Griffin on Twitter at: @yougochante