Kanye West is a guy who inspires extremely strong reactions in people, a trait that many of the more compelling artists throughout music history have shared. Despite having millions of fans who have spent enough on his albums, concerts and other merchandise to make him one of the wealthiest stars in the world, he seems to have just as many detractors. That type of polarizing response may be an important part of what makes a musician like Kanye so interesting — people tend to either really love him or really hate him, indicators that he's a compelling artist.
More than most, West seems to inspire those extreme reactions. Although I know people who are rabid fans, claiming that yes, he really is a genius, it seems like a whole bunch of other folks hate the guy with an intensity that seems out of scale. He is after all, a hip-hop superstar, not a serial killer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the hater crowd seems to believe his music is "worthless" or "garbage," things people have been saying about the music of artists they don't like for ages. And it's fine to just not enjoy an artist's music; I'm not a big Kanye fan myself. What's weird about all the hate here, though, is that much of it seems to be because people think the guy is rude or egotistical.
Those are traits that famous people and music stars in particular have had in common since basically forever, so I'm not sure why West seems to draw more criticism than others. Sure, almost everyone has heard stories from friends about meeting a famous person, and having the pleasant experience of discovering they're down to earth and nice, seemingly unaffected by their enormous fame. For the most part, though, the public almost expects superstars to be larger than life and prone to behaviors that wouldn't be tolerated in "regular folks." Elvis may have shot his television sets, but if someone's cousin did that, the cops would probably get called.
How many rock stars have built at least part of their image on past criminal acts? Keith Richards had heroin busts he walked away from with almost no serious punishment, and the same could be said of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe drove drunk and ended up killing his passenger and badly injuring others when he crashed his car. Compared to a lot of famous musicians, Kanye West's dustups with the law have been relatively minor, yet people hate him because he shoots his mouth off and has a big ego.
During an infamous 2013 BBC interview, Kanye was quoted as saying "Rap is the new rock and roll. We're the new rock stars, and I'm the biggest of all of them. I'm the No. 1 rock star on the planet." Then Yeezus repeated the sentiment at the 2015 Glastonbury festival, declaring himself to be "the greatest living rock star on the planet."
These statements were met with a predictable reactions from many people, not to mention quite a few older rock stars who seemed to feel outraged that one of the world's biggest rappers had claimed their throne for his own. That kind of swagger and egotism should have been familiar to a few of them, though. After all, Noel Gallagher of Oasis once claimed they were bigger than the Beatles, whose John Lennon had famously quipped that his band was "more popular than Jesus" years earlier.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Hearing aging rockers like David Crosby and Pete Townshend bash a phenomenally popular rap star for having the audacity to claim apex rock stardom for himself, seems to be the kind of thing one would expect from bitter cranks, not people who are rock stars themselves. The perception seems to be that Kanye West is rude and disruptive at award shows, and has a high opinion of himself that he's not scared to express, which is so awful that even famous rockers think Kanye is out of line. That seems ludicrous coming from the ranks of a musical culture that has usually celebrated individuals who acted eccentrically or even criminally while forging their own artistic paths.
Demanding that Kanye should be polite or reign in that same kind of behavior seems wrong on many levels. It also supports his claim about being the biggest rock star in the world, since even though his music is something different, the man's style, bravado, and ability to bug the status quo is more in the spirit of rock and roll than anything a lot of his famous detractors have been doing lately.
Do I personally enjoy Kanye West's music? Not really, but I don't think it's garbage either. Repeated listenings to Yeezus have made me realize there's something interesting going on there, and while it may not be exactly up my alley, it's not music that can be dismissed as something a talentless hack created, either. It also makes me realize that we're likely to be hearing from Kanye West for a very long time, which will undoubtedly please as many people as it will distress. Haters going to hate, but they don't tend to hate people who are boring.