The line “Ye is no stranger to controversy” has now itself become one that simply rolls of the proverbial tongue. And therein lies a new issue: we’ve become so used to his outbursts that we no longer feel adequately shocked by them. In fact, aside from, say, murder, there’s not much we’d be surprised by. And even then… such an act was something he levelled at Pete Davidson, who was dating his ex-wife.
Let’s just take stock of some of the most well-known, surface level moments. There was the 2009 VMAs controversy, interrupting a then 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. There was the 2018 TMZ interview where he brandished slavery “a choice”. He brought out DaBaby and Marilyn Manson onstage for his Donda 2 listening party in Miami, despite the homophobic and sexual assault allegations against them, respectively. He met with, and ultimately supported, Donald Trump, America’s most controversial president. He had an animated form of Davidson buried in a video for his track ‘Eazy’, released just this year.
I repeat: these are just some of the most well-known moments. There’s a whole raft of Kardashian-bashing, presidential running, fellow artist-hating nonsense, some of which alone would stand out as the most controversial moment for plenty of other artists’ comparatively uneventful careers. The simple answer to whether we’re desensitised to his controversies is a resounding yes.
Some of them are ultimately harmless. Criticising someone’s work at an awards ceremony – an incident that isn’t limited to TaylorSwift, but was aimed at Beck too at the 2015 Grammys – might be a dick move (to coin a phrase), but ultimately doesn’t cause injury. Professing violence, as well as dismissing anti-gay and sexual assault allegations – again, something he also did in R. Kelly’s case in 2019 – is quite another. The old adage words have consequences proving apt here, especially when impressionable young eyes and ears often soak up an artist of his stature.
And the latter is precisely where we find him in this latest incident, with Kanye donning a ‘White Lives Matter’ slogan – a phrase adopted by both the KKK and Aryan Renaissance Society in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and one deemed “a racist response to the civil rights movement” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He’s also accompanied by conservative influencer and fellow Trump fan Candace Owens, who was flaunting the same slogan.
But, more bizarrely, he’s decided to have some of the models for his collaborative fashion brand Yeezy wear them too; and has been seen wearing the slogan around a group of youngsters, presumably from his newly-found Donda Academy. This wasn’t some spur-of-the-moment decision but a pre-planned act – and one Ye feels rather shameless about.
I wouldn’t for a moment want you to think this was just a rant. Media is a landscape that perpetuates divisions as much as it does inform or seek answers nowadays. So in the interest of breaking free of groupthink for a moment – albeit aware of the dangers of giving additional airtime to such outbursts – let’s have a further probe into his actions at the YZY SZN 9 showing.
“I am Ye, and everyone here knows that I am the leader. You can’t manage me,” the rapper has said at the show. Arrogant? Yes. Narcissistic? Most certainly. (A trait that presumably makes him feel like a kindred spirit with Mr Trump).
But it’s also somewhat telling. In fact, it continues a line of defence that Ye often uses after a moment deemed controversial: the “you can’t box me in” line.
YZY SZN 9🖤 pic.twitter.com/T6wvme7JKu
— Outlander Magazine (@StreetFashion01) October 3, 2022
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It’s a quip designed to make him seem transcendent, above culture, above society. We know Kanye has a God complex. If not all the time, then at least in waves throughout his career: from the ‘Jesus Walks’ video off his debut album, The College Dropout, to his proclamation that “I know God Breathed on” his latest full-length album, Donda.
The problem is that many of his outbursts don’t say anything beneficial. They don’t elevate people around him, quite the opposite. It might set him free, to some extent – make him feel unshackled by whatever he feels the industry, his fans or wider society is pushing him to be. But such actions have only kicked about in the mud, not uplifted us to new planes.
Here’s the kicker – a fact I’d save to the end. I love Kanye. Do I miss the old Kanye? Not really. He’s my most-played artist on Spotify, not just this month but all time; he’s ahead of second-placed Radiohead and Marconi Union (thanks to their Weightless album, I’d recommend him to anyone who needs to concentrate in a loud office).
I was in his 0.01% of listeners last year, according to my Spotify Wrapped. Can you separate the artist from the art? I hold my hands up – I certainly have.
Will I continue to listen to him? As said above, save for him killing anyone or somehow pulling his music from all platforms – a stunt I wouldn’t put past him – I’ll probably continue to.
But his latest antic doesn’t offer anything new. It doesn’t add anything to his music, fashion, or art. It doesn’t challenge or excite, stimulate or inspire. It’s bereft of creativity. It’s a stupid logo, with deplorable associations, on a plain T-shirt.
Anyone who watched the three-part documentary on the rapper, Jeen-Yuhs, will know he’s a man who’s hurt. A man who’s reeling from the loss of his doting mother, Donda West, and now, I’m sure, acting out against messy divorce with the mother of his children. But with the platform he has, he should be warier than most of his words and his actions.
That film presented many sides to Kanye – including, I thought, one period of redemption around his 2019 album, Jesus Is King. It was a period of subservience to God, not narcissistic self-importance. I hope the man will return to that frame of mind soon. That’ll surprise us – and elate us – far more than any outlandish act against which we’re now immune.