Arts

​We Need to Talk About Kanye

The WUD Society and Politics hosted discussion seemed only to hint at Kanye West’s impact in 2018, while most attendees were very comfortable defending his impact on the music industry as a whole.

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Last Wednesday, the Society and Politics committee of the Wisconsin Union Directorate hosted a discussion titled “A Dark Twisted Fantasy? Kanye West in Recent News.” As someone who has listened to West’s music for years and has found deep discomfort in his actions throughout 2018, I was intrigued to see what exactly would be discussed at the event and what others’ opinions on the matters were. I attended the discussion with the intention of mostly being a fly on the wall, occasionally chipping in my two cents.

With that in mind, I headed to Memorial Union and sat down in the Langdon Room with a free slice of pizza and a cup of water, joining 17 others, more or less. What I found was a room composed mostly of loyal Kanye fans and then everyone else. In the interest of preserving attendees’ privacy, no names will be mentioned.

A representative from WUD Society & Politics began the evening with a recap on Kanye in 2018, including his TMZ appearance, his musical output and his meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. He brought up numerous topics that stemmed from these incidents, including mental health and media bias, and then we entered the discussion.

The dialogue centered around the notion of mixed messages and the general trickiness of addressing certain topics. One person thought that whatever message West had in mind could be different than what he delivered, solely due to a butchered execution. West’s donations to Uganda and philanthropy in Chicago were forgotten amidst the controversy of his politics, said one attendee. Another added that the Blexit movement — named for “Black exit” and spearheaded by Candance Owens — has not been given a chance and is a misunderstood campaign.

The trickiest issue to address, however, was generally agreed upon to be mental health. West was committed to UCLA Medical Center in late 2016 and more recently opened up about mental health in his meeting with President Trump this past October. One attendee, who said she was not a fan of West’s music, said it is hard to address mental health due to the confusion around West’s personal mental health state.

A large portion of the discussion was the quality and impact of West’s music. I knew this would take hold of the conversation at some point, as West’s music and his personality have always been nearly indistinguishable from one another for the entire duration of his career as a rapper. What was disappointing, though, was that the conversation took this turn and suddenly felt like an apologist’s discussion for a man that, for the most part, doesn’t even know how to apologize well.

An attendee spoke on how West’s unabashed honesty in his music has led to a greater acceptance of non-gangsta-rap-related themes in contemporary hip-hop, such as Tyler, the Creator’s tracks on sexuality and BROCKHAMPTON’s openness about depression. This honesty eventually translated to West’s politics.

Another attendee commented on how West’s tendency to go against the grain has worked for him before, but, since going against the grain in 2018 means supporting Trump, he is now poorly received compared to those defying gangsta rap or lambasting then-President George W. Bush on live television.

Then, another attendee mentioned West’s recent apology tweets, which turned the conversation toward West’s most recent music. I chipped in that, while it is fascinating to see how an artist’s career arc reflects in their music, the release of the disappointing solo album ye showed how West’s scatterbrained appearance translated to his scatterbrained approach to recording records. Additionally, his new music and politics could change his base of fans. One attendee thought that ye should be viewed as a part of a greater context, while another responded that it’s important to put West’s whole career in perspective. A third said that West’s music hadn’t actually dipped in quality.

After that, the member of WUD that presented on West’s recent happenings asked how we find ourselves defending West’s latest antics. One attendee said that they can’t take anything West says too literally. Another chipped in that the nature of the music industry and hip-hop in particular pressures West and other performers to innovate in order to stay pertinent, and 2018 was just another trail in West’s quest for relevance.

The discussion ended with how to interpret West’s recent actions. A committee member who said she does not listen to West’s music stated that someone somewhere is taking his statements way too seriously, and addressed the importance of recognizing how much power West holds as a celebrity. Another individual said that the arts industry at large seemed to lean liberal, and that it is generally accepted when a celebrity endorses liberal politics rather than endorses conservative politics. A third person commented that there was nothing wrong in contributing to the conversation and that it is good to express yourself.

By the time the night was wrapping up, the tone of the conversation seemed only to hint at Kanye West’s impact in 2018, while most were very comfortable defending his impact on the music industry as a whole. However, I implore readers that it is far easier for Kanye West fans to talk about West’s music in a positive light than to talk about West’s politics in a negative light; in a time where hate crimes have increased at a noticeable rate, it’s important to remember what West has normalized for intolerance.

He has tried to brand “Make America Great Again” as a symbol of love when the slogan has been linked to racism and misogyny. He has engaged in conversations about history and politics with incorrect facts and excused slavery as a choice. His conversations about mental health seem to still be developing and have no clear start or end, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the damage from other conversations has already been inflicted.

While West will always be the man who changed popular music, his connections to a changing political atmosphere and his misuse of his platform as a public figure may not serve well to his legacy.

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