So, I’ve been thinking about Kanye a lot since the Runaway video came out. And my lovely friend Jennifer and I have started debating about him often, which started when I posted the video on facebook and she said it was “awful,” and continued from there. She is a huge fan of Lady Gaga, which makes it easy for me to argue about the idea that the problem with Kanye is that he’s “self important,” but the debate has evolved into something much bigger. She had never seen the “George Bush hates black people” clip, which I was trying to hold up in a discussion as an example of a time when Kanye’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve and put his foot in his mouth at the same time (what an image… ideas…) was actually put to wonderful use instead of the flip side (like the TS debacle). So I posted it on her wall.
But she didn’t like that clip either, and a facebook debate was born. One of the things I said was about how I’m only interested in people who are deeply flawed, because “perfect people are boring,” and my friend Kester said something pretty true, and also kind of calling me out, about how we don’t actually like those people because of their flaws, we like them because of their struggle to be better than their flaws. Which I agree with. But then the discussion also turned to West’s lyrics, which to me is a completely different argument entirely, and I summed up my feelings about that argument thusly:
As for his lyrics, I don’t really think of them the way that you guys seem to. I see most rappers like Kanye as fiction writers who use an intentionally, intensely exaggerated version of themselves as a first person narrator when they rap. I don’t see Eminem’s Slim Shady stuff as being a representation of who he is as a person or a dad anymore than I see “Westfall” as a representation of who Will Sheff is as a dude. There’s nothing that says that the things that Kanye says in his songs are a literal reflection of his actual feelings about life and the universe. Most of his lyrics, truth be told, aren’t even deep — they’re just clever. In other words, he’s joking. Sometimes they’re good jokes and sometimes they’re not, but I can’t really hate him for the latter given the company I keep and how many shitty “your mom” jokes I hear every day. It guess it’s funny to say this in a comment this long and thought out, but: maybe you’re taking his songs too seriously?
And on the “let’s hear it for the douchebags” line, I do think it’s self-aware — but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I think it has more to do with his perception of his reputation than it does an actual viewpoint he’s espousing about being a douchebag.
Here’s the key thing I feel like is different from my perception of Kanye West and Jennifer’s: I think he’s playing a character most of the time. And I don’t think that makes him a douchebag anymore than Gaga doing the same thing makes her one. It’s basically a life-as-performance-art, and it’s what MOST giant pop stars do these days. It just so happens that Kanye’s character is ostentatious, egotistical, and lavish. I don’t think he’s actually spending more money than other pop stars, he’s just making it obvious.
But the other thing is that underneath that character, I think Kanye is a pretty sad dude. I think he’s probably bipolar. He’s admitted that he thought about killing himself after his mom died in 2007 and that doesn’t surprise me at all. I think he basically covers up for the fact that he’s kind of lonely and overwhelmed by being this insanely grandiose figure in the public eye. When I listen to Runaway, I hear a song that’s at once clever and tongue in cheek, but is also, at it’s heart, about self-loathing. I actually cringe over how much I can relate to that song when he says “you’ve been putting up with my shit for way too long.”
And both sides of the Kanye coin fascinate me to no end, because I see him/it as a microcosm of so many different aspects of celebrity culture and hip hop and, well, just being a person. If he’s a waste of my time, and he might be, I think everything else is too.