Kill Your Idols: Music Fans Often Build Artists Up, Only to Tear Them Down
Kanye West had a little meltdown recently. You likely heard about it, since anything Kanye these days is a lock to get some media coverage. This particular meltdown, however, wasn’t typical of him. Whereas rap’s most polarizing figure is known to generate a little controversy, this particular flame-out featured onstage political rants, a canceled tour (which included a scheduled stop this weekend at Houston's Toyota Center), and, eventually, a hospital stay.
You would think this kind of tragic fall would generate some support in the community, and you would be right. Plenty of fans and colleagues, not to mention family and friends, have voiced their support for Kanye. Many more have not. A certain sector of fans, and even some of his fellow artists, have used this as an opportunity to kick Kanye while he is down.
Now, to grant full victim status to Kanye during this emotional time isn’t entirely fair. The man has burned enough bridges over the past several years, it stands to reason that a sizable portion of the music-consuming population has been awaiting his downfall with glee for quite some time. If anything, Kanye has learned a valuable lesson during his time of need: As much as the pop-culture stratosphere loves to build celebrities up, it takes even more joy in ripping them down.
Of course, this trend isn’t exclusive to Kanye; take his noted rival, Taylor Swift. Swift burst onto the scene a decade ago as the embodiment of likability. She wrote songs about high-school romance (and actually wrote them!), played her own instruments and emanated a humble yet confident quality. Her self-titled debut eventually went platinum five times over.
Swift, a keen businesswoman, realized that she could retain her country fans and open up a whole new fan base by transitioning into more of a pop-country mold, and she did just that with her sophomore release, Fearless. The album, thanks to hit singles like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” eventually moved more than seven million copies. Swift subsequently released two more multi-platinum records, Speak Now and Red, before going full-on pop star with 2014’s 1989. The album is an anomaly in that it’s a major pop star’s highest-selling album in an era when streaming and illegal downloading have blunted many artists' commercial performance.
So it appears that Swift is riding high as arguably the biggest pop star in America, but that isn’t exactly the case. Over the past year, reports have surfaced that Swift isn’t quite the wide-eyed, humble type she all too frequently appears to be. That, coupled with conflicting reports that she granted Kanye permission to use her likeness in his “Famous” video, only to recant after the video finally surfaced, hasn’t exactly helped her girl-next-door image. Most notable, however, is the fact that some folks are simply tiring of her serial dating habits, which often result in some of her noteworthy musical material.
Point being, Taylor Swift — like Kanye — is a victim of her own success. They have company. Consider Drake for a minute. Dude is the hottest mainstream rapper in the game, a commercial force unseen in hip-hop since Eminem ruled the charts in the late '90s and early 2000s. He sells out concert after concert, including a pair of Houston shows over Labor Day weekend, and pretty much owns radio and streaming charts whenever he decides it’s time to release new music (which is often; Drake is a worker).
But heavy is the head that wears the crown, and many artists – and some fans as well – have turned against Drake since he evolved from mixtape phenom to full-fledged pop star. Some have alleged that he doesn’t write his own lyrics. Others have just flat-out called him soft. Neither of these accusations is false exactly; it’s likely that Drake does get a little help during the songwriting process, and when compared to hardcore, street-savvy rappers of yesteryear like Tupac Shakur, 50 Cent and Scarface, Drake is somewhat soft. He sings as much as he raps, hams it up on Saturday Night Live and releases cheesy videos (just see below for proof). He doesn’t exactly run from the fact that he isn’t a gangsta rapper, but rather an artist who blends hip-hop and pop into a very successful — and catchy — musical broth.
The list goes on. Music is littered with pop stars who experienced backlash once they hit a certain level of success. It happened to Puff Daddy. It happened to Britney. One can hope it won’t ever happen to Adele, mostly because Adele appears to be the most humble, delightful pop star on the planet.
On the flip side, as much as we love to kill our idols, we take even greater joy in their rebirth. If Kanye is able to battle through his personal demons and struggles, publicly express some appreciation and humility, then release a kick-ass record that details said demons and struggle and provides some actual perspective, many who turned against him in the first place (including myself) would gladly rejoin Team Kanye.
This is the world we now inhabit. Hate it or love it. Build them up or tear them down. There is no more middle ground.
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