Next September, it’ll be ten years since Kanye West famously interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMA awards. Which award? Which Taylor Swift song/video/album won? Which work by Beyonce was Kanye so aggrieved didn’t win? Literally nobody knows. And yet I promise you that every person you mention the moment to will be able to do a pitch perfect Kanye West impression from the moment. It was a dumb moment at a dumb musical award that nobody (at least in this country) gives two shiny shits about, and yet that moment of Peak Megalolz was still honestly one of the biggest and most discussed cultural events of the 21st century. Such was (and still is) the cultural cache attached to Mr. West.
While the only real debate about that particular moment focused on whether Kanye West was intentionally being a bit of a doofus in order to ensure maximum megalolz from a tired and boring awards show, or just being, in the words of President Barack Obama, a bit of a ‘jackass’, all the debate centred around Kanye. Taylor was just the disposable pop/country star who was probably just pleased to be mentioned in the same breaths as one of the century’s premiere taste makers and trend setters. Taylor Swift was a bland and incongruous pop nonentity whose roots in the American South meant she was probably right wing if she was even aware enough to have political allegiances. Kanye was the trailblazing icon who had already been responsible for probably the 21st century’s most influential albums and had not long ago caused a furore for claiming “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a live television show aimed at helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina*. Taylor Swift in 2009 looked about as insignificant, as dumbly blinking into the lights as a cultural moment careered into them, as Mike Myers had in 2005.
(*George W Bush later said, seriously, that it was the worst moment of his presidency, That’s three US Presidents in a row who have had strong opinions in one way or another on Kanye West)
The moment obviously had an effect on Taylor Swift in outlining how far down the cultural pecking order she was from the real superstars. The amount of records she sold was suddenly meaningless if she wasn’t considered to be eating at pop culture’s top table. She then spent the next decade calculatedly climbing the cultural ladder until she reached the point she’s at now, the cool talking point with her own ‘squad’ and official ‘beefs’. While I wouldn’t go as far as Kanye himself in saying that he “made that bitch famous“, I think if he released a song bragging how he “made that (ahem) woman far more aware of her cultural standing” he might not have been too far off the mark. Taylor Swift transcended her lowbrow roots to such an extent that she had to eventually come out as left wing.
Her reluctance until late this year to explicitly embrace left of centre politics was costly to her reputation among taste makers. In the uppermost echelons of pop culture, ‘woke’ liberalism is the only accepted state of mind, and any departures from it are stigmatised. Not long ago, Kanye could have told her that. He had long affirmed his correct liberal stance with lines like “And I’ll never let my son have an ego / He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go/ I mean I might even make him be Republican / So everybody know he love white people”. He was the wokest of wokes! It can’t have been an easy choice for Taylor to endorse the Democratic candidate in the 2018 mid terms in her home state of Tennessee. She would have known that many of her fans from her home state would naturally be far more Republican minded, but she would have crunched the numbers and seen that keeping silence on politics was doing her cultural status far more harm than disowning the right would. She saw that we were in an era when Jimmy Fallon could massively lose popularity for trying to be unbiased and not hating Donald Trump enough. We are in an era where not explicitly denouncing the right is tantamount to endorsing Trump, and if you’re quiet about it, then you must have something to hide. By October 2018, Swift had seen what an endorsement of Trump can do to an artist’s career.
“There’s so many times when I talk to, like, a white person about this, and they say ‘How can you like Trump? He’s racist’. If someone inspires me and I connect with them, I don’t have to believe in all their policies“
Kanye admitting to supporting Trump was such a spectacular act of self-immolation, of diving from the top of the cultural ladder to the spikes below, that people debated whether it was a reflection of mental illness. Kanye West has basically made a career of doing dumb things. Well, no, Kanye West has made a career by making some of the most important and influential music of the 21st century, and we should never forget that, but doing dumb things has always been a frequent side show. Never before though, has his mental health been suggested as a cause. Breaking the consensus of the left’s hold over culture though? He’d have to be mental.
Kanye stated that he didn’t believe in all Trump’s policies, and TI revealed how he was stunned how Kanye didn’t even fucking know about his policies. “He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it doesn’t reach him”. Kanye didn’t know about Trump’s policies, he didn’t know about the actual consequences of his actions, he was just inspired by this manifestation of the American dream. Far more so than Barack Obama, Trump is the ultimate proof that any fucker can be president! Because of… dragon balls… or some shit. Kanye would have also known that Trump was a guy he was supposed to hate, but the fact that he didn’t know exactly why is probably more down to a failure in the reaction to his presidency. Too many people also know they’re supposed to hate Trump, but haven’t given enough thought to why.
Kanye has long relieved himself from the real world, and would have mainly got his impression from Trump from places like Twitter. He would have learned that people think Trump is dumb, they think he has no redeeming factors, they think he should be in jail and they think all of his fans are idiots. This is a stance that many people once seriously took on Kanye West, from both people who would later become Trump supporters and (white) people who consider themselves on the other side of the political spectrum. Such derision was the reason him headlining Glastonbury was so controversial. If we keep concentrating on how Donald Trump is ‘dumb’ or ‘egotistical’ or ‘has silly hair’ or is ‘pretty stupid as well as being dumb’ and not debating the actual legitimate reasons why he’s so terrible, then we risk turning him into a cartoon baddie that people like Kanye West might see as being edgy and cool to support.
Not long ago, the above picture made the rounds of all the dankest drizzles of social media, apparently revealing that Hitler held left-wing anti-capitalist views. This quote seemingly proves that actually Hitler was left-wing, and therefore the ideological war is over because this is proof that the lefties were the bad guys. Here’s the thing, things don’t become bad because Hitler did them, Hitler was bad because he did bad things. If Hitler actually said that (of course he fucking didn’t) I would have to shrug my shoulders and say that, yep, I actually agree with the little tyke on that. Apparently his favourite Nirvana album is ‘In Utero’ as well, so we might even have a good few minutes conversing over the things we have in common. Unfortunately, I imagine conversation might soon turn to his problems with the Jews and whole belief in the separation of a hierarchy of different races and I’d probably have to make my excuses and leave. Because they’re bad things. We’re at risk of turning Hitler into a comedy bad guy if we forget that he’s a rather unpleasant person because of his actual deeds. If we’re not careful, Trump will soon become that comedy bad guy.
Kanye went to the right much in the same way that Taylor went to the left. I honestly doubt much thought about political ideologies or beliefs were involved in either move. Swift endorsing the left was a calculated bid to increase her social and cultural standing, she realised that left wing views were now obligatory to be let into culture’s top echelon. Kanye made the opposite turn because he saw it (correctly) as the most shocking thing he could do in preparation for the release of his next album. He had always been about breaking barriers and defying expectations, and escaping the confines of the cultures leftist consensus was perhaps his biggest endorsement of that. We always state how we want the truly greatest artists to do things that ‘shock’ us, but what we really mean is that we want people to ‘shock’ the right. Kanye actually did something that shocked the left, and it’ll be fascinating to see if his career ever recovers.
Possibly the biggest travesty of the reaction to West’s dumb Trump endorsement is the idea far too widely held that his album was a similar failure. It’s fucking fantastic, and is actually the third of Kanye’s albums this year to make the list.
Fucking hell, Kanye, why you always gotta make me write so much?