Kanye West has repeatedly said that if you’re a fan of Kanye West, then you’re a fan of yourself. You’re a champion in his eyes. Do it for the glory. “Go listen to all my music,” he once told Zane Lowe. “It’s the codes of self-esteem.”So what does it mean to be a fan of Kanye West now, as he aligns himself with the darkest elements of modern America? If you’re a fan of Kanye West in 2018, who are you a fan of?
Like millions of others of all backgrounds and from all parts of the world, I’m part of a generation that grew up with Kanye West. I remember hearing The College Dropout for the first time when I was a teenager while driving around a tiny-ass town in Iowa with my friend Jeff. You probably remember when you first heard him, too.Since then, for 15 years, the true one constant in my life has been the joy of Kanye’s music—a consistently innovative sound of disruption, excitement, frustration, adventure, confusion, elation, tenacity, and ferociousness. It revolutionized what rap music could be by simply refusing to let it be labeled as rap music. Moreover, his career has given birth to pretty much everything we know now, both musically and culturally. With each album, he not only reinvented his sound, but he reinvented himself and evolved what he stood for—from stunner shades to weirdly cut suits to red leather jackets to T-shirts with holes—pushing himself to think differently about not only what music can be, but also how it reflects the world and its current existence. But beyond fashion, he fearlessly made bold, political statements. Everyone remembers. In 2009, he interrupted Taylor Swift to praise Beyonce on live television. A couple years prior, he told the world that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people due to the lack of action following Hurricane Katrina. Kanye has often stood for what we believe, but moreover, what we aspire to believe.
As listeners, he demanded us keep up with him as he pushed boundaries. Like David Bowie and Prince before him, Kanye West is one of the most exciting and pioneering artists to ever live. Hate him or love him, you have an opinion on him. We should feel lucky to witness this in real time, a constantly evolving artist in a constantly evolving time. For a long time, we, his fans, did.And now here we are, trying to believe in ourselves while Kanye tweets his half-baked fortune cookie thoughts about capitalism from his house in fucking Calabasas, peppering in his love for Donald Trump along the way. At some point in their life, everyone learns the hard way not to put their faith in any one celebrity. For many, the image of Kanye alongside two middle-aged rich white music executives wearing a red hat that has come to be synonymous with xenophobia is that moment. Or at least it is for me. Kanye spent his career encouraging his fans to believe in themselves, in ourselves. I wouldn’t be where I am without what his art has done for me, and I know I’m not alone.Should we be surprised? Probably not. Let’s not forget Kanye said he would’ve voted for Trump (if he voted at all), and stopped by the Trump Tower for a photo opp shortly after the election. Let’s also not forget Kanye loudly tweeted support for Bill Cosby, something that cannot be underscored enough. At this point, it’s almost like he’s baiting us to reckon with the things we’ve always known about him. And maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Kanye’s work has always been challenging and confusing. That’s the point. Nothing makes sense, and to try and dissect what’s happened to Kanye is a fruitless endeavor. One could argue that he’s continuing his career of challenging behavior as he compares his dragon energy to Donald Trump’s. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s time to go back and examine his career as a provocateur. Maybe his antics were nothing more than antics after all. Maybe we all put a little too much faith in the idea that Kanye knew what he was doing, and there was a deeper meaning to his free-associative on-stage screeds and calling himself a God. Maybe we should’ve listened when Barack Obama called him a jackass. Because at this moment, he’s tweeting his love for an asshole who wants to deport anybody who’s brown while that asshole’s asshole son favorites those tweets and oh my god I hope this is all actually a simulation.Kanye doesn’t seem to understand what’s at stake and what aligning with this kind of rhetoric can do, and the impact it can have. There is so much about this that is bad—but thinking about the influence of his platform is one of the scariest things. There’s no other way to put it: the MAGA army will use this photo of Kanye in the red hat to justify hate. Kanye has always represented the best and worst about America, and at this moment, it feels like the darkness won.Like so many, I feel betrayed. Kanye is defending his actions, saying fans like me are trying to manipulate his thinking. But it doesn’t seem like Kanye is thinking. Or at least, one hopes he’s ignorant here. Because the alternative means he’s sided with something far worse. Kill your idols? I guess. Even Frank is confused.Seeing Kanye align himself with a powerful white man who uses xenophobia as a pillar of his platform is as devastating as it is disappointing. This isn’t about political parties, even if that’s how Chance the Rapper seems to be reading it. This is about something larger—this is about history, and the future of humanity. Artists can translate the complicated aspects of existence into palpable ways, and this has long been one of Kanye’s strengths as a creator. We need him to align with the progressive future, and not confuse contrarianism with intellectualism. If he doesn’t, he’ll become a vehicle for weaponized hate and regression. I want so badly for him to understand that, because he can be such a force of good, but I am slowly realizing that it just might not be the case. The normalization of Trumpism will be the downfall of our culture. And here Kanye is, doing just that: tweeting his love for Peter Thiel—a man who is doing everything he can with his money and power to destroy the right to free thought—and wearing a red Make America Great Again hat. A hat that he proudly had signed by Donald Trump.There isn’t an answer, or if there is, I haven’t found it yet. Will I listen to Kanye’s next album? Probably. Will you? Does that mean we support Donald Trump? I don’t know, but the only sure thing I know is that everything is fucked up. At this point, I’m simply confused, angry, and sad. Maybe you clicked on this article hoping for someone to tell you how to feel about all this, but I am not that guy. All there is to do for now is to keep watching these tweets through our fingers, hoping for something different, but knowing deep down it’s not coming. Is this the true meaning of the Ye button? God, I hope not.Follow Eric Sundermann on Twitter.