How Should Audiences React to Kanye West?

One of Kanye West’s most infamous characteristics is his unpredictability. The rapper has carved out a reputation for controversy. From his back-and-forth beef with Taylor Swift that may or may not be for publicity to the artist’s more recent actions surrounding the release of this year’s “The Life of Pablo,” Kanye has now reached what many fans will most likely call “a new low.”

It was announced today that Kanye has canceled the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour following a barrage of strange incidents. He cancelled a concert in Los Angeles after a, at this point, trademarked rant where he calls out Beyonce, Jay-Z and Hillary Clinton during a concert in Sacramento that ended extremely early. Days prior, he had told an audience that he would have voted for Donald Trump for president had he voted.

The incidents raise plenty of questions, the most important one being: how should we-as consumers, as fans, as audiences, as a society-react to Kanye West? Should we be fed up or open minded? Are we required to separate the man from the artist, and what exactly makes either of those? At this point, is his unpredictability really all that unpredictable?

After all, this is the man who once said that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people and rushed a stage to interrupt Taylor Swift winning an award. Fans of Kanye’s music have always been in the bittersweet situation of separating the man from the music, and yet, the man is largely what makes the music. Even in his early “College Dropout” years, which was released in 2004, West was making a name for himself as a contentious figure in mainstream pop culture — he made the Bush comment in 2005.

And yet, despite that comment and a history of being a polarizing figure for the black community, Kanye revealed he would have voted for Trump, a move that many of his fans probably found to be a betrayal. Is it, though? Kanye and Trump have more in common than we may think, Twitter tirades and all, which neither of their most devoted followers would probably like to admit.

So when it comes to separating the man from the music, Kanye’s fans find themselves in a similar situation that Trump’s less alt-right leaning supporters found themselves in: separating the sexist, racist, unprofessional man from the Political party he was associated with. White, working-class families who wouldn’t consider themselves racists or sexists voted for Trump because he was not a traditional politician. They didn’t vote for their fellow man, they voted for their pensions.

That’s worked up until this point. No matter how many times West changed the title of “Life of Pablo” or halted its release date, it was still going to arrive. No matter how many outlandish things West said, he was still going to make music, and fans knew that that fire burning inside of him would only lead to better art. But now, after a flurry of questionable decisions, many of West’s fans may find themselves frustrated, like watching a presidential candidate implode in front of our eyes with one meltdown after the other — except that didn’t stop people from voting for Trump. Will it stop people from supporting West?

Kanye West during the Saint Pablo Tour (via Slate)

As someone who had tickets to the Saint Pablo tour, the very last show in Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve no less, I find myself in that troubling situation of separating the man from the artist. But as stated, that’s hard to do when the man largely makes the artist. That means if West is to be forgiven, if we are to condone alienating his fans in such a way, we need to look deeper. If the man makes the artist, what makes the man?

West’s persona is amplified by his outbursts, and we as a society have mostly packaged those outbursts — whether they be against that aforementioned political institution or against “the media” or regarding race relations in the United States — into publicity stunts, or celebrity nonsense, or simply part of his appeal. But we needn’t look any further to see this latest outburst coming than “Life of Pablo” itself, specifically the final track, “Saint Pablo,” in which West raps about being in debt/broke.

I’m not an expert by far, just to be clear, but this is worth at the very least discussing: West’s mental health has for years been called into question. At the beginning of this year, West called to Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion, which this writer of the Root called a “cry for help:”

West wants to be in the moguls’ club, where the titans of capitalism and commerce play. He wants to be “this generation’s Disney.” But what he wants he may never, ever be able to obtain because what he wants is entry into a place where no amount of money or fame can buy him access.

Ironically, that think piece is about how West doesn’t need a think piece, and that what he needs is therapy (says, me, writing a think piece). So, if we are to delve deeper into “what makes the man,” is it fair to categorize West’s antics more as publicity stunts and less as cries for help? Are these latest antics cries for help? As fans, it’s often hard to accept that these cultural titans may have their own deep demons, but West’s supporters have, or should have, always known that.

West’s personal woes can often be reflected in his Twitter. He’ll take breaks and then come back with a tirade and take a break again. He hasn’t exactly been active recently, and his last tweet (besides a happy birthday to wife Kim Kardashian West), a depiction of suffocating — under the stress, under the expectations, under the debt — could be another “cry for help”:

West’s fans are now left with the gargantuan decision of whether to box this latest set of outbursts into the simplest of categories — a publicity stunt, a narcissist gone made — and be angry about it, or to think about it on a deeper level. It’s easy to cast it aside as the former, but what West is doing isn’t normal — even by his standards — and that should be alarming. Maybe this is the time that West finally gets the help he (appears to) desperately need. And with that in mind, fans should be happy he’s taking this time off before he cancels more concerts after 30 minutes of being on stage.

On “Saint Pablo,” West’s first verse starts like this:

My wife said, I can’t say no to nobody
And at this rate we gon’ both die broke
Got friends that ask me for money knowin’ I’m in debt
And like my wife said, I still didn’t say no

If this recent move is any inclination, he’s finally saying ‘no.’ Maybe we should let him.

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