Is Kanye West a Dickhead for Going on Stage and Almost Interrupting Beck?
Kanye may have pulled his craziest stunt yet. Is he a progressive rock star or just a giant ballbag?
So it’s happened again. Full-time musician and part-time news generator Kanye West is in the headlines for protesting against the institution that is the Grammy Awards.
Beck’s album Morning Phase—which sounds like the beautiful exhale of shared solitude in the hours that are neither here or there—beat Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and Pharrell to the Best Album Award. As Beck walked up to receive the world’s most critically acclaimed lavatory ornament, Kanye followed him to the stage and reached for the microphone. Then he walked back. It seemed like a half-joke—a wink-face, tongue in cheek reference to that iconic Taylor Swift moment—but an interview held after the show made it clear Kanye’s movements held more semblance than a quick LOL and a smile from Jay Z.
Speaking to E! Entertainment, Kanye said: “Beck needs to respect artistry, he should have given his award to Beyoncé. At this point, we tired of it. What happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.”
People weren’t happy about Kanye’s outburst, surprise surprise.
Most online comments are so red with anger they fail to analyse what element of Kanye West’s proclamation makes people angry. They call him a dick but offer no insight, so I asked Noisey editor Kim Taylor Bennett, who thought Kanye’s action was indeed a dick move, to explain:
"When Kanye ascended the stairs to interrupt Beck's acceptance speech I thought, "Aw! Ye's developed a sense of humor. He's poking fun at himself! He's kinda LOLZ!" But then then during his rambling E! Entertainment interview we were reminded that he's just the same as he ever was: a self-aggrandizing, self-important prick. Beck needs to respect artistry and hand over his award to Beyoncé? Gimme a break. You don't have to accept the Grammys decision, but FFS how about you respect your fellow artist instead of behaving like the tastemaker for the modern world.
Kanye thinks he's espousing a universal truth, the "right decision," but I'd bet my entire wardrobe Kanye hasn't listened to Morning Phase, which is a rich, poignant, beautiful collection. Do I think it should've scooped Best Album? I'm not so sure, but I'm glad a record without all the mega-marketing hoopla and big budget video bonanzas is getting a mainstream plug. I'm glad an artist who's been releasing brilliant and sometimes confounding records for over 20 years is receiving props.
At a base level the Grammys is a chance for us to shout at the TV, marvel at Gwen Stefani's lineless visage , and in the case of last night, lament the number of ballads—programmers give us a damn dance display please! All any awards show is, is a great red carpet, some light entertainment, and a bunch of backslapping which translates to a not-insignificant post-show record sales boost. And you know what? I think Bey is good. Her awards shelves are stacked; her bank account is chill. She'll be F-I-N-E.
But back to Kanye, Spokesperson for Artistes Everywhere. Kanye with his Big & Tall t-shirts, his sour puss expression, and his drop crotch pants that cost twice as much as your monthly rent. I'm tired of him using his fame to talk about how beautiful his wife is and how he thinks he's solving America's race problems by having a baby with her. Bravo, your dick works, get over it. I'm not sure there's ever been an artist who is so desperate for the limelight. You can smell it through your flatscreen. During his performance with McCartney and Rihanna, Kanye couldn't even bear to let Rih have a moment to shine on her solo verses—he was over to the side, flapping his arms around, miming along. His autobiography—cos you know he's not gonna let anyone else write it—might as well be called Yo, I'm Over Here: The Kanye West Story. We see you Ye. Now fuck off".
I agree. Even if—as The Atlantic points out—last night's show was "offensively boring," the Grammys are just a spectacle. They’re just an excuse to get drunk on a Sunday night while thinking about Usher’s sexual prowess. No one has ever died because they didn’t win Best Vocal Performance (Electronic). But at the same time, it feels disingenuous the way the Grammys constantly invite the biggest hip-hop and pop stars of the day to perform, create headlines and improve viewing figures, but then ignore those artists and give awards to a subset of well-meaning white guys.
The Grammy Awards are not the Kanye West awards, and sure, some people may find it disrespectful that Kanye West has asked Beck to “respect artistry and give his award back.” He’s called out well-deserved artists before—like Justice, who won the MTV Awards in 2006—and then come back on himself and decided he loves them. You don’t get the sense that Kanye listens to every release from the longlist of artists before making an informed decision.
But if you think the Grammys is just an entertainment show, then surely Kanye West is within his rights to make a scene. So what we can do is look into the reasoning behind his outburst and why he believes it’s an injustice that Beck won an award over Beyonce.
As Kim Taylor Bennett says, it’s great that an album like Morning Phase—which was solely written and produced by Beck—won an award. But by any measure, commercial, critical, or cultural, Beyonce’s was the more impressive record. It sold more, had a higher MetaCritic score and you only need to look at the Beyonce branded T-shirts, the consistent memes, the fact the video has been re-enacted with emojis and sung all over the world to see its impact.
An infographic posted by Buzzfeed prior to the award ceremony found that over the past five years, 90 percent of Grammy Award winners have been white. This isn’t to say the Grammys are a racist conspiracy, they are democratically voted for by a large number of voters, but in recent years they have tended to support white artists—see Eminem or Macklemore’s win in the rap categories over the past two years, or the fact no black artists has won outside of the rap and R&B categories since 2010. The awards don’t seem to be based on cultural or critical relevancy, but rather a particular prism which sees a certain kind of culture as legitimate, which is the exact thing Kanye, and people like Azealia Banks, are rallying against. Kanye’s comments about “smacking people in the face” echoing his statements in the infamous amount of interviews he’s given over the past year. You can’t blame them.
Each time these award shows happen, they provoke a discussion on what constitutes music that’s real. Whether it’s played with guitars, synthesisers, or an 808 drum-kit, it’s impossible to define, but the opinion is usually held by those who believe music made by a certain kind of artist is better and holds more worth than everything else—which is typically guitar or instrument-driven rock’n’roll performed by white people. But this isn’t true. Real music moves people, pushes culture forward, and changes things, regardless of whether it has come from rap, dance, country, or pop. Beck’s come out and said he appreciates Kanye West’s music, so it’s about time some “music fans” get down from their high horse and understand the importance of his work, too.
We could bang on here about how 808s and Heartbreak changed the musical landscape forever—influencing everyone from Drake to the XX to Lorde; how Kanye’s won a truckload of awards; brought the music of Chaka Khan, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding to a younger audience; invested in unparalleled artistic pursuits, like the world’s first seven-screen cinema experience; founded a non-profit company helping kids in Chicago; consistently pushed for racial equality at every opportunity since he released The College Dropout; brought the world’s leading musicians together in ways never seen before; released a song with one of the Beatles; supported new music and pushed unknown artists into the mainstream; challenged the artistry of music videos; stood up for himself in the face of worldwide adversity; and influenced almost every artist of note since the turn of the century. But that doesn’t matter. If you hate hip-hop or you hate Kanye West, you probably won’t care. You’ve heard it before.
Some music is simple; some of it’s complex. True, popular artists, embody both. This isn’t about the sound of the music or what it’s made with. It’s where the artist sits in the world. Kanye didn’t need to ruin Beck’s moment or tell him to give up the award. But he was asked a question about the award, and some people believe he’s not qualified to answer that question because he uses samples, auto-tune, drum-machines and doesn’t play an instrument. This is dumb. The Grammys, unimportant though they may be, reinforce that view but time and time again put pop music created through collaboration below music created by individuals, put rap music below music with sweet sounding vocals, put black artists below white artists. Sometimes it’s worth being a dick about stuff like that.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil