He’s not a popular figure. His name has, in recent publicity, become synonymous with public agitation. As his notoriety rises into infamy, countless memes, posts, tweets and articles have been written to ridicule and bash him, in an attempt to tear him down from his self-appointed throne. People are up in arms about his alleged 2020 Presidency run rumors, about his ongoing conflict with Taylor Swift, about his lyrics, his fashion line, his family. He opens his mouth and, in all honesty, it’s difficult to like the guy. Kanye has come a long way from the bottom and in his rise to the top he’s created an unsympathetic character. It’s difficult to like the guy. He’s conceited, and self-righteous, inflammatory, angry and entitled. But despite all his verbal and public mistakes, I, and countless others, still remain die-hard Yeezy fans, for a few reasons.
1. The guy is a genius.
And he knows it. As much as the public tries to refute this and as much as critics want to tear this title away from him, the fact of the matter is, people are still hungrily consuming his work. Millions of people logging into Adidas and other limited retailers in hopes to get their hands on his collaboration sneakers. The week The Life of Pablo released, Tidal became the #1 downloaded App in the App store. So while there are quite a few loud and vocal haters out there, there’s an even larger group of supporters still perpetuating his hype. We’re still creatively invested in what he puts out, and if you’re one of the masses that did in fact listen to TLOP, you already know it’s damn near a masterpiece. What he creates is cool and attractive to a multitude of varying demographics. Sophisticated street style propels his fashion line forward and with new songs like Real Friends, Wolves and No More Parties in L.A., his music is still true to his original person and compels connectivity in listeners across the globe. Connectivity to not only each other in the fan base, but connectivity to the original Kanye, the pink polo wearing Kanye. He’s constantly tearing at the edges of his own boundaries. His innovation is unparalleled with a distinct and unique voice but still hasn’t crossed the line into completely un-relatable, which means people still hungrily consume his brand. While his public statements and interviews are sometimes inflammatory, without that persona, he would’ve never gotten to the top.
Taking this into consideration, we have crafted a cultural icon who is, for all intents and purposes, hate-able. The fact that his success isn’t determined by whether or not you like him, makes him even more interesting and is catapulting him into unparalleled fame. This loud, obnoxious act that he has, is bringing spectators, fans and critics alike. His raw unfiltered talent is what keeps them engaged and what keeps his genius propelling forward. So now you, the consumer, are at a conundrum. Because as much as you dislike him, his lyrics are still in your head, his songs are still in the club , you’re favorite artists still pulling for collaborations. His shoes still on your wish-list, selling out like more hype than Coachella on eBay for 5x their retail price
2. We created Kanye.
We don’t place much emphasis on the likeability of a character. Now hear me out, Kanye West is a persona, he’s a character: and an extremely well crafted one at that. Americana culture has moved away from the idea of the ‘American Hero’ or the ‘American Sweetheart’ as being a selling point of entertainment. The millennials and other following generations like a grittier character, someone you have to chew on a bit. Shows like Girls or Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, The Office, Shameless, ect. capitalize on the real, unfiltered, un-likeability of their protagonists. Whether the creator is using that for humor or drama, it’s hardly a new concept, but is one that’s currently trending.
Faulkner was made famous for the unlike-ability of his main characters, as was James Joyce or J.D. Salinger. Musicians like Anthony Kiedis, Mick Jagger, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac weren’t shy about their lewd and outlandish lifestyles. They didn’t perpetuate a golden boy image or an American Hero personification, instead they capitalized on the bad boy. The drug addled, fighting-against-the-man-and-higher-authority, idea of the tortured creator is hardly a new theme. Kanye is the new bad boy, the swagger-jacked, self-assured, and hungry entrepreneur our society has long idealized and tried to emulate in other ethnicities and other venues. CEOs and Big Business owners statistically rank the highest in the population for narcissism, for holding the same attitude Yeezy does. Think of the iconic, ‘all-American’ novel The Great Gatsby, where not a single character was particularly honorable. Books, music, movies and television shows, are, in large, what define a society. So when an individual rises to the top – capitalizing on the values we’ve set as being admirable – can we really fault them for being exactly what they needed to be?
3. He embodies what it means to be an artist.
The trick to making something famous is to also aim to make it unforgettable. And to do that the creator needs to be able to resonate with a myriad of different people on a myriad of different levels. It’s somewhere in these layers that people find their own tethers to the creator or the creation, because it’s completely subjective to the consumer, yet still unifying in its feeling to other observers.
Look, artists don’t exist to be likeable. They exist to extract a reaction out of people, to inspire people and create a world away from reality for us. This is why deeply, life-changing, perspective-altering artists remain unattainable and in a sense, un-relatable. They’re exploring their continually changing perspectives and emotions and portraying the world around them as they see it, and therefore, don’t necessarily function well in the predictable or mundane. This is why artists are synonymous with stereotypes of being introverted, self-destructive, antisocial, drug addicted and alcoholic and why artists are synonymous with stereotypes that place them somewhere straddling between ‘brilliant’ and ‘bizarre’. When we interview creators, should we place the expectation of normalcy on them? Kanye sees the world as Kanye sees the world and his unique perspective keeps his creations fresh, innovative, new, and sometimes radically different from our own.
Kanye is different from no other artist in the notion that he’s aiming to create something that will outlive himself, and if his work doesn’t do that for him already, his abrasiveness, does. He works with artists that creatively add to his vision, not detract from it, he draws from tracks that are timeless and re-masters them with his own sound. So, sure, laugh and shrug off his self-appointed brilliance as ridiculousness – but it’s his own belief in his creativity that got him where he is. If you’re still listening – his new songs haven’t forgotten his struggle. And his fashion line is a not-so-subtle nod to the societal issues and uprisings and oppression America is presently facing.
4. The American success story
His social media platform, his marriage into the Kardashian Brand, his self-expressive manner – all of the previously stated is a reflection, not of Kanye, but of us. Our dreams have changed with the terrain of the time and we simply don’t glorify the blue-collar worker anymore. Kanye represents the 21st century of acceptance and success of the 21st century dream. His anger is our anger, his outrage is our outrage. Worse than those – his entitlement – is our entitlement. These observations aren’t made to glorify the attitude of the uprising generation, but perhaps to shed a little light on what attributes of a person truly get our attention. While it’s true that money has always been in the American Dream, the difference now is: without it, freedom, innovation, and possibilities prove to be limited.
Kanye West’s brand is the dark twisted fantasy that is the new American Dream.
Perhaps the most attractive and agitating thing about Mr. West is that: He doesn’t need your approval to be famous or even to be successful. He doesn’t need your approval to be one of the loud, screaming, unfiltered voices of our generation. That is the dream of branding, of entrepreneurship, creativity, independence, and ultimately, of freedom. He doesn’t need anyone to validate him, he validates himself. So criticize him all you want, but what he represents and what he creates, is real and completely unadulterated.
I, and countless others, are still along for the ride.
‘Til the wheels fall off, ’till the wheels don’t spin, Mr. West.