By Erin Moyer || Senior Editor
Think about that kid you knew way back in elementary school. That kid you’ll think of with a pang when you learn about bystander intervention. That kid everyone made fun of for crying at “The Giving Tree.” That kid who made everyone feel intellectually insecure in a way that they did not yet understand. That kid who would get his hood filled with snow on the playground, and you would watch and make no other reaction than to give an idle sort of chuckle and note that yes, winter truly had come early this year. We all knew that one kid.
Well, open your eyes. (I mean, I didn’t tell you to close them, but.) (And you’re reading this, so I guess they’ve got to be open. Can you just be cool?) That kid is Kanye West. And that playground is a little place called America. (Heard of it?) Follow this metaphor with me: Kanye West is that beautiful, Mandarin-speaking, sensitive genius kid everyone is confused by. He might be headed somewhere big in 10 years, but for now, he has to deal with plebeians. And today’s media are those people. Bloggers, cheap tabloid press, all of them are that mean gang of bullies who vent their latent, confused rage onto him because it’s easier than trying to understand him and admit that he may be onto something. For this is the eternal fate of the bright and precocious: to be brutally pummelled by the strong and dumb.
Here’s the truth: Kanye West is a wretchedly, beautifully misunderstood artist. His place in today’s media as someone to mock, as a GIF-able, shareable sideshow whose only merit is in its mocking, is actually the greatest tragedy of our time. Really, it is. I grant you that this commodified cruelty toward Kanye is not as tragic as things that are sincerely tragic (Amy Poehler’s Emmy snub comes to mind), but it’s disappointing all the same.
No one can argue that Kanye has not occasionally put himself in the line of fire for this abuse: he did drink half a bottle of Hennessy and, you know, “interrupt” Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in 2009. That was really disrespectful of him, and I, superfan party of one over here, will be the first to say so. Of course that was a rude thing to do. Of course it was. No one’s pretending Kanye conducted himself appropriately, least of all Kanye.
Nevertheless, I stand by him, and here’s why. Kanye West is a man whose talent is matched by an almost staggering inability to articulate himself. And, until recently, that struggle to accurately express himself was combined with a complete lack of media training. This has all made for a fatal combination for a young, energetic performer with a lot to say and no idea how to say it. West faces more ingratiating media attention than arguably any other celebrity in the world. Of course there have been some sticky moments. Of course he’s stumbled. He’s been put a remarkably unfair position.
And bear in mind: this all happened six years ago, you guys. If each of us were held accountable for the people we hurt six years ago, I would still be apologizing for the time I completely overhauled a ninth-grade English group project. Move on already, MTV. Find something else to sell. (And actually, while I’m at it, screw those group members, too. I was totally right.)
So fine, Kanye West is self-confident. I’ll even grant you egotistic. But listen: I’ve met SoundCloud DJs who are egotistic. I’ve met high school trombonists who are egotistic. And all of those people had about 21 fewer Grammys than Kanye. So perhaps the man thinks he’s great, but hey, why shouldn’t he? He is great.
Come on, America. Have you forgotten all the good times? Remember when a nervous, Late Registration-era Kanye stood up at a telethon and (rightfully) accused the media of racial bias in Hurricane Katrina coverage, and George Bush of racism and neglect? Are you just going to overlook the six albums that changed the way everyone else makes music, the six albums I know you loved? Have you forgotten “Power?” “Flashing Lights?“ “Stronger?“ “Golddigger?!” We’re just going to pretend like “Golddigger” never happened? I know you make fun of Kanye West now, but this was real for you, too. You loved him once, too. You could love him again.
So let’s all grow up, nation. Let’s all be critical consumers of media, and let’s try to understand the objectively great points, remarks, and albums West is making. Everyone stop picking on Kanye right now, or I swear I’ll tattle.
Erin Moyer is a Senior Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.