Welcome To Heartbreak
I just finished reading the Kanye cover story from The Fader and I thought I’d throw my initial reactions and undeveloped thoughts out here in cyberspace. To begin, I think Yeezy’s first speech at the American Music Awards on Sunday night nicely captures the spirit of the article: he wants to be Elvis. So, let’s start with that in dialogue with:
“I was saying it from the gate: I’m into Louis Vuitton, I wanna be pop. I spent my whole check on those two bags I wore for those pictures. Those are some of my best pictures, other than having a really bad haircut. Now, the only thing is pop. I really like popular culture. I’m all about Walt Disney, Coca-Cola, Louis Vuitton, Nike. I want people to remember me the way they know Nike, that level of impact. Who was the last person who really had it like that? When I was a kid, it seems like there was a lot of great pop music. There was George Michael, Michael Jackson.” — Kanye West, The Fader
This is where I get confused. Kanye makes these inflammatory, provocative (in a seriously contrived and performative way) statements (that might be sincere but still, I know he likes this “wow” factor of saying something “different” and “better”) such as: “I want to be Elvis!” (“George Bush hates black people!”) and has this vampiric drive to excel and push the boundaries of anything he touches (music, fashion, design, branding at large) almost until any foreseeable breaking point. From the above answer, I got the impression that Kanye is infatuated with fame for fame’s sake. What exactly does he “like” about Louis Vutton, Coca-Cola and Nike besides their sheer impact? I think Kanye needs to define “impact” for himself. Impact is not necessarily just influence, it’s also control and oh yeah, power. He seems to adopt an elementary analysis of power as in power = good. Conversely, he talks at length about taking responsibility for the art he releases into the world. I wonder: who/what are Nike, Coca-Cola and “Pop” responsible to/for in Kanye’s eyes? Does it even matter? The same thing goes for his Elvis/Prince/Michael Jackson fascination. In one moment, I’m giving mental props to Yeezy for at least “keeping it real” and coming clean with his (overt) investments in the Coca-Cola’s of the world and his “I don’t mind being hated if I’m popular” attitude but it gets muddled with his talk of responsibility (in particular to the hood and “this culture”). Honestly, it seems like Yeezy has some good ideas but they get lost somewhere in his egoism and delusions of grandeur (which he predictably denies in The Fader article because apparently not even Kanye West can own up to his own narcissism, sorry Nietzsche). As funny as he seems in some of A-trak’s candid footage, he takes his career and image too seriously for me to fuck with. While I liked 808’s and Heartbreaks more than I expected, I just don’t think it’s the type of earth shattering, stereotype breaking, genius music that he’s claiming it to be. Obviously, I respect his passion and commitment to his own art but his almost compulsive need for it/him to be THE BEST bores me. Moreover, I found this statement to be hands down the most interesting and thought provoking one of the entire feature: “It’s (808’s and Heartbreaks) the musical version of an Obama speech”. Think about that one. I think he’s going somewhere with that…I don’t know if my initial reaction is being influenced by years of anti-capitalist, anarchist and situationist organizing but Kanye West and Obama only take it so far for me before I’m thirsting for something else. Before I go, I thought I’d share an analysis of power and fame within the context of pop music (though on a smaller scale) that sits well with me:
In an article aptly titled “You can’t be too smart to make pop“, the homie Victor Vazquez (second to the left) of Boy Crisis fame covers similar ground to Kanye in The Fader article but in a way that I fucks with HARD BODY. Let’s start with these 3 paragraphs:
“Vazquez, who was born in San Francisco and majored in English, reflects the band’s dual purpose by acknowledging their commercial potential and surface appeal – “our first idea was to be as pop as Britney Spears” – while using his new platform for a series of observations that read like a cultural studies syllabus. “It,” he says of the band’s name, “applies to the whole fey masculinity thing Boy Crisis are on, and how conventional ideas of masculinity and machismo are actually pretty homoerotic, which brings up the question of what masculinity is.”
Vazquez does this a lot – veers between teen-mag frivolity and degree-level scrutiny. “We’re Brian Eno and Timbaland’s love child,” he decides when asked for a capsule definition of their cerebral pop-funk. But when I bemoan the dearth of current “indie” bands fusing rock and R&B, he fires back: “That’s dangerous territory.”
I’m not sure what he means until a week later, when he sends me an email that is so long and painstakingly argued, it takes a further week to absorb his thoughts on the problem of white rockers assimilating black dance music. Phrases such as “cultural appropriation” and “reverence for concepts of aesthetic hierarchies” fairly trip off his keyboard.
EXACTLY! I think Victor says it best: “Wealth and fame mean influence, the power to redistribute the world’s wealth and make political change. But I also like doing drugs, having sex and wearing freaky clothes. I don’t think that’s at odds with me wanting people to have enough food to eat.” This analysis makes SO much more sense to me because he defines “impact” (the power to redistribute the world’s wealth) and follows through with this critical point that rockstardom is not necessarily at odds with a political analysis. Kanye fails to make these points and frankly they would mean less coming from him because it’s simply not reflected in his everyday lifestyle. (I can’t accuse him of fronting as he recently admitted he doesn’t even to listen to rap music anymore because it’s no longer relevant to his environment). LASTLY, I’d like to conclude with the following quotation from Victor, it’s the missing puzzle piece that summarizes my criticism of Kanye West at this moment:
“I would rather,” considers Vazquez, “get out of Iraq, not tax the poor more than the rich, fix health care and see appointed as justice to the supreme court someone with sane policies about abortion and gay marriage than have good pop music.”
“I have to use the bathroom“ WORD? Point proven, fams. Wackest. Interview. Ever.