Is it just me, or does it suck to be Kanye West these days?
There was a time when Kanye was the go to guy in music. He was just the bees' knees. Making the most amazing music, writing killer songs for everyone and just, well, being cool. Untouchable, a meteor.
Somewhere, perhaps around Welcome to Heartbreak (still my fave West album), the wheels started to fall off the machine. The platitudes arrived and he started believing all the press. And it was around then that his meteor started its descent. It's already crashed down with a few serious thuds in recent years and has led to Kanye becoming pop culture's enfant terrible (sorry Biebs, you're #2).
Let me just say that I think Kanye is incredibly talented. He's one of the few people on the scene capable of shaking things up. Also, no artist can ever really sustain an up and up: as a public, we're wired to bring people down (repeatedly), and the notion that we can watch as someone gets pulled down from a lofty height is like the equivalent of cultural S&M porn.
Kanye West is a polarising figure. Reading his interviews over the years, listening to his music and keeping an eye on his aesthetic has led me to believe that he has really developed as an artist over the years. His ambition alone has pushed him to the level that he sees himself as being on: that is, one of the only acts of his generation that is really a successor to the MJ/Prince/Madonna holy trinity. The amount of hype and debate he creates gives him an automatic pass into that stratosphere on those grounds alone.
But I get the feeling that a lot of the time the commotion Kanye causes is involuntary or unplanned. It's chaos created by negative reactions rather than the chaos that greatness and true originality can generate. Back in the eighties, those three kept us on our toes. They just kept pushing the boundaries. You may not have liked them, but their new take on things often still blew your mind. But Kanye seems to always be on the verge of blowing his gasket, whereas those three - obvious eccentricities and defects aside - seemed to have a steely will to keep at it without getting caught up in the hype they created.
I think a portion of the latest round of negativity attached to Kanye these days is in connection to TIDAL. It's music royalty's modern day curse. They should've named that company TSUNAMI because it has really created incredible upheaval and terrible consequences for a lot of the artists on the roster/board. In the space of a week they managed to f*ck up both of their presumably most important releases of 2016 - Rihanna's Anti (which they temporarily/briefly leaked after endless delays) and Kanye's The Life of Pablo (which, well, has just been another mess what with West pulling its release after it having gone live).
Do music lovers still want to hear Kanye's music? Well, yes, but they increasingly don't want to listen to him. And when it comes to the music, it's also on their terms, not his. The decision to exclusively put Pablo on TIDAL has pissed off a lot of people who resent having to pay and subscribe in order to hear it. But, that's not to say there isn't a hunger for it: reports suggest that in the space of a week the album has already been illegally downloaded 500,000 times.
What's more interesting to me is the backlash that Kanye, on a human level, seems to be provoking. It's at a height that we haven't seen in a long time. You can't turn on social media this week without seeing a million memes pointing out how much of a douche bag he is perceived to be. And that's a sentiment that has plagued him for years: brought on by his appalling, pratty behaviour at award shows, ridiculous beefs with people like Taylor Swift or Beck, the ongoing car crash that is the West/Kardashian/Amber Rose/Wiz Khalifa saga and the kind of emperor has no clothes fashion lines he just insists on offering to the world. Add in a never ending set of Twitter rants and you have the basis of what is comedy gold. Here you have one of the biggest stars in the world with one of the biggest platforms ever, and nobody that wants to listen to a word he wants to say (unless it's to pull up closer to get a better view of a car crash).
As a result of all that deafening cacophony, whatever music he is making is being sidelined by him and himself alone. Ignore the media martyrdom that he seems to think he's being put through. Critics as always, love his work, even if any punch he has been able to deliver musically in recent years - be it with Yeezus or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is completely overshadowed by Being Kanye West. And for that, he doesn't have anyone else to blame, because The Life of Pablo should've been a shoe in for an easy, well received reincarnation. But being Kanye West means that you're more interested in living in purgatory than becoming the Pop God you think you really are.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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