The first time I heard Kanye West rapping “Gold Digger” was during an episode of a TV show. ER, I think. It was scoring something really dramatic, a death of some kind, maybe, or a war sequence. I can’t be sure. I just remember that I was totally drawn in by that song, with its sample of a classic Ray Charles tune and its bombastic lyrics.
Now, this was 2005, and I was a young, sheltered schoolgirl, being raised by parents who believed that “secular” music was of the devil. So it took awhile for me to be able to listen to Kanye’s music without fear of punishment. By the time I was in high school, I was singing along to every radio-friendly hook he came up with, and I’d memorized the verses too. His music was everywhere. Pop culture ate him up. He was different, new, and most importantly, extremely talented.
Then of course, as we all have seen discussed to infinity, his meltdown at the 2009 VMA’s, largely attributed to issues in his personal life (and also, you know, being pretty wasted at the time). I don’t necessarily think that’s when the public began to fall out of love with Kanye West (although, remember how the President called him an a**hole?). While tons of people talked about it at work the next morning, that was the point – they were talking. Arguably, the Taylor Swift incident only made West’s star shine brighter. We expect our stars to be outrageous. They do the things we can’t, the things we can only dream of. They drive cars that cost more than some of us will make in our lifetimes, then wreck them, then buy twelve more. They make out on yachts on the French Riviera, they fly first-class or own their own planes. They hang out with the elite, rubbing elbows with presidents and world leaders. They stand on stages while tens of thousands of people are all screaming their name.
We want to be them. We love watching them burn, eclipsing the normal suburban lives we enjoy and rocketing themselves into an entirely different existence, so foreign to our own, but so easily followed through the internet and tabloids and the media circus. We love them, despite their ridiculousness. Until we don’t anymore.
No one knows exactly what triggers it, the turn from love to derision. Celebrities ride it out all the time, and years, months, weeks later, are back on top. But sometimes, they don’t. Some celebrities are exiled to the land of permanently controversial, and it seems that Kanye West has joined their ranks. It’s no longer the goal to be admired – now, the endgame is just to have everyone talking about you, for whatever reason.
With his recent crop of profiles and interviews granted to promote the release of Yeezus, West sounds more and more like a caricature of a person, a laughable exaggeration. But he’s so serious, and that’s what makes it so unenjoyable. “I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.” “I will be the leader of a company that ends up being worth billions of dollars, because I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.” “I would go to museums and just like, the Louvre would have a furniture exhibit, and I visited it like, five times, even privately.” “The idea of Kanye and vanity are like, synonymous.” “Yeah, respect my trendsetting abilities. Once that happens, everyone wins. The world wins..” Quotes like these display an ego so supercharged, there’s no way it’ll ever come back down to earth.
He may still be talented (but listening to “I Am a God”, which consists of shrieks accompanied with declarations of his own deity and demands for croissants, didn’t spark anything in me, unlike my first experience with a Kanye West song) and he may still be culturally relevant. He’ll still sell millions and sing to crowds of unfathomable numbers. But he won’t admit to being human, which is tragic. Because it’s his humanity that made people love him in the first place.
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