Whether you are with Kanye or against him, you’re right. The social media circus that erupted around the Album of the Year Grammy awarded a few weeks ago has allowed fans of all involved artists to argue why Beck did not deserve to win it or why Kanye West is the biggest jerk of all-time. Everyone from “respected” journalists to your racist friend seems to have shared a comment or a rant about the issue in one direction or the other. Yesterday, Kanye tweeted an apology to Beck, nearly two weeks after the incident occurred, and in this age of a pop culture with a less-than-zero attention span, chances are most will forget about and move on from this over the next few hours or days without taking the time to realize that it did not affect their lives, for better or worse, one way or the other. Having said all that, where does that leave the beef between these two innovative artists and who was in the right or wrong? It may seem obvious and one-sided, but Kanye was simultaneously doing good and bad in this case.
Beck Hansen, an LA-based singer/songwriter/performer who has been racking up awards and accolades from all corners of the music industry for over 20 years, had been nominated twice before for the Album of the Year Grammy without winning. It may have come as a surprise to some, but his hauntingly-beautiful and carefully-crafted 2014 LP, Morning Phase, was easily one of his best and one of the year’s best as well. Through every step of the process, beginning with taking the stage to accept the award, Beck expressed complete surprise and was quoted shortly after Kanye’s near-interruption saying he expected Beyonce to win the award, which was Kanye’s main complaint, very similar to his famous Taylor Swift interruption at the VMAs a few years ago. Furthermore, Beck invited Kanye to the microphone before he was even able to begin an acceptance speech and was clearly laughing and smiling to see Kanye stepping toward the podium. Beck has continued to take the high road at every opportunity and has praised Kanye for his excellent work and has stated he is a fan and loves Kanye. From this perspective, Kanye’s comments, especially as he continued to argue his point over the following week or so, put him squarely in a villain’s role. However, as any open or closeted pro-wrestling fan will tell you, where would we be without the “heels”?
Kanye West, who burst onto the scene with his multi-platinum debut LP in 2003, The College Dropout, after having produced many successful Jay-Z tracks, started-off with a much humbler tone. As many hip hop artists before him, it was becoming successful that changed him. The much-maligned arrogance, braggadocio, and over-confidence he sometimes displays in lyrics and public comments grew slowly but surely as he continued to succeed in the world of music with each new release and many other artistic ventures that have little or nothing to do with music. This leads to the question of why and how he has been so successful if he’s such a terrible person. Mainly, Kanye is an original thinker. As with many great artists in all corners of medium, Kanye’s work excites and inspires one segment of the population while it offends and upsets another segment. Doing new things in new ways that haven’t been successful or even attempted by others in the past has always received a split-decision. Add this to the attitude and larger-than-life ego and what really results is one of the biggest and most-recent rock stars on the cherished time line that traces back to the mid-1950’s and earlier. Hip Hop is only the most-recent branch of rock music to come under heavy scrutiny, overreaction, and attack. In the 1980’s, it was all about heavy metal music. Punk rock in the ’70s, Psychedelic rock in the ’60s, and even the birth of rock ‘n roll itself in the ’50s have all faced similar treatments, sometimes with a focus on specific artists or albums, other times in a broader sense that has also included more than its share of flat-out racism. Perhaps Kanye’s take on hip hop as a musical form is the beginning or continuation of what was briefly looked at as an “alternative” category within the genre, similar to the rock bands of the early and mid 1990s. Perhaps he is an artist who stands out in a field of derivative, redundant ignorance. Hair metal could have used one of those.
Considering all of this, it is notable that Kanye West goes out of his way to stand up for what he truly, in his heart, feels must be right, even though many may not understand his point of view. Standing for something and backing it up, artistically and publicly, with passion and consistence is a very admirable quality, but when that drive mixes with strong emotion and ego all at the same time, things can get pretty messy pretty quickly. There are arguments to be made in all directions why Beck, Beyonce or any of the other artists nominated for Album of the Year (not to mention the excellent albums that were not recognized in any category this year) should have rightly won and deserve the award, but it is unfortunate that Kanye chooses to allow his emotions to get the best of him in the heat of the moment rather than commenting on something after the fact, but then again, no publicity is bad publicity, and anything that generates the most attention is bound to be encouraged by an artist’s management, right? Maybe Beck and Kanye will cut a track together someday just to give the story a happy ending. Chances are, it would rock.