Why America Needs Kanye West
Kanye West makes it easy for people to hate him. He throws tantrums at award shows, he snatches mics from blond pop princesses, he rants at concerts, he screams at radio hosts who don’t have the answers.
He is often tactless and lacking decorum, and his honesty comes with absolutely no filter. Branding him as arrogant, obnoxious and egomaniacal seems to be the simplest, most obvious conclusion available. It’s just not entirely accurate.
It would be just as accurate — if not moreso — to describe Kanye West as courageous, revolutionary, visionary, groundbreaking and inspiring. But those labels are seldom applied to the rap star. Few people consider that the passion that fuels his backstage meltdowns and mic-snatching spectacles is the same passion that’s brought us some of the most wildly imaginative art of this generation. Instead, his outbursts are gleefully shared, mocked and in some cases celebrated as evidence of his megalomania while his artistic genius — as in the case of the Yeezus Tour — is often downplayed or ignored altogether.
Considering the nature of our world, it’s not all that surprising.
We live in a society where being polite is valued more than being honest, where it is implicitly required that we minimize ourselves, our abilities and our accomplishments to be more socially acceptable to others.
Though we talk endlessly about the American Dream, most of us defer or completely abandon our personal dreams in favor of getting a degree, getting a job, getting ahead, getting more like everyone else and getting lost.
We spend most of our existence in social straitjackets that give us little latitude to express our emotions without being diagnosed with a mental disorder. Anyone who is overly passionate, aggressive or angry is labeled as crazy, unstable, or in the case of Richard Sherman’s impassioned post-game interview, a “thug.”
We tolerate and often respect news broadcasters who share stories of death, destruction and chaos on a daily basis — drawing attention to the most grotesque, abhorrent elements of our world and endlessly highlighting problems but seldom any real solutions — because they speak in calm, articulate voices and wear suits.
We sit through TV ads for pharmaceutical drugs whose side effects include suicidal and homicidal thoughts and actions without batting an eye because there is a woman running through a field of daisies or a grandmother smiling.
We read magazines that profit off celebrity meltdowns and tune in to radio hosts who deal almost exclusively in gossip and scandal, never once calling them out for the insensitive opportunists they are.
But when Kanye West speaks his mind in a manner that hasn’t been approved by three PR teams and a corporate sponsor, we say he’s childish and out of control, even when he is speaking about injustice, artistic suppression or racism in the country’s highest office.
We’ve been socially conditioned to make ourselves small, and instead of fighting those who would seek to reduce us, we fight those who refuse to reduce themselves.
And yes, maybe Kanye West is too often impolite and disrespectful. Maybe his messages would have more impact if they were delivered in a less abrasive manner. Maybe his views would be easier to support if he was as vocal about important social issues as he is about his struggles to gain acceptance into the exclusive world of high fashion.
But Kanye’s delivery is not the problem. The fact that most of us can’t see past it to actually process what he’s saying is.
You gotta love it though, somebody still speak from his soul…
Kanye West is a black man in a society fundamentally antagonistic to black men who is not begging for acceptance or agreement or approval. He is telling his truth and he does not particularly care about telling it in a way that makes people more comfortable. Though he does seek recognition and respect, he does not need or want to be liked.
Not only has he taken creative risks even so-called innovative artists would have shied away from, but he’s had the guts to put his personal brand on the line and state some uncomfortable truths in very public forums. George Bush doesn’t care about black people. Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time. Sway, you ain’t got the answers.
There is not a performer today who gives more of themselves onstage; who leaves even casual fans feeling like they did not pay enough for their ticket; whose artistic visions are more theatrical, unique or brilliant; who can make 15,000 people rap enthusiastically about segregation and make 20-year-old frat boys stare in awe; whose emotions are so intense that they can literally be felt by the audience. There is not an artist in existence who puts more of themselves into their art than Kanye West.
So if we have to accept a few confrontational interviews, telethon outbursts and tantrums about improperly awarded awards in exchange for radical honesty and transcendent art from a black man who will not apologize for being himself, so be it.
Kanye West doesn’t know how to bottle up his feelings, and thank God for that. We have enough approval-seeking automatons in society. We don’t need any more.
Lauren Carter is a writer and editor based in the Boston area. Follow her on Twitter and check out her blog at www.bylaurencarter.com.