The never knowingly understated Kanye West is spearheading the return of the great pop egotist. And, says Luke Lewis, Kanye and co are a vital part of pop’s landscape
Kanye West’s fifth album is due out in November and, true to form, he’s not exactly under-selling it. “The next album,” he declared during a recent web chat, “will be [my] masterwork. That Avatar-level [work].” So presumably we can expect it to be three hours long and in 3D. “I try to compete against the past,” he continued. What, with Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, guys like that? Not quite. Kanye’s creative touchstones are “Michelangelo, Picasso, the pyramids.”
So modest. But such pronouncements will be nothing new to followers of Kanye’s Twitter page (@kanyewest), where he makes banal statements (sample tweet: “Life is a movie… play your role”) with an imperial self-importance that suggests he thinks we all ought to carve them on stone tablets. In this, he’s continuing the good work started on his blog, where back in January he concluded a caps-lock rant with the unforgettable phrase, “PLEEEEEEEEEASE!!!!!!!!!!!! LET ME BE GREAT!!!”
Good old Kanye. You suspect he couldn’t buy a steak bake from Greggs without taking to Twitter to proclaim it THE GREATEST SAVOURY TREAT IN HISTORY. He’s the Shakespeare of self-delusion. Moses with a MacBook Air. Admittedly it’s hard to be genuinely enthused about his music these days. But he’s still consistently the most entertaining, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away pop star in existence.
And here’s the weird thing. Kanye’s Christ-like posturing, geared up again this year following a reclusive period post-‘Taylor-gate’, isn’t irritating. It’s actually hugely endearing. Which points up a central, and slightly counter-intuitive, truth: when it comes to pop, everyone loves an egotist – and this year Kanye seems to be spearheading a resurgence in that breed of pop star. This is a good thing.
Think about it. This month thousands will descend on Reading and Leeds eager to watch Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose – even though last time he played the fest (Leeds) he was 90 minutes late and nearly started a riot. Here’s a man who squandered $20 million and 15 years producing an album that contained a song called ‘TWAT’. We ought to ridicule him. And we do. But we’re also fascinated by him.
Likewise Richard Ashcroft. His new album, released under the brilliantly overblown name United Nations Of Sound, finds him lettin’ his soul fly, doin’ this thing called life, leaving no cliché untapped. It’s had poor reviews. Do you think he cares? Of course not, he’s up in the clouds, feelin’ it, man, adrift in ecstatic Richard Ashcroft world. Wouldn’t you be like that, if you could?
Meanwhile, former Fugees man Wyclef Jean is running for president of Haiti. Admittedly, that’s potentially the most disastrous political event since Dubya back-slapped his way into the White House. But still, you’ve got to admire the guy’s balls. One imagines he admires his own, anyway.
Ditto Prince’s quixotic war on the internet this year (what’s that, you want to give your album away free with the Daily Mirror? Okaaay…), and Liam Gallagher’s ongoing refusal to give a shit what anyone thinks. You’ll find a similar impulse behind Dr Dre’s recently unveiled plan to record a concept album based on the planets, or Janelle Monáe’s high-minded songs about messianic androids and sci-fi movies. It’s all about having the confidence to come up with a ludicrous flight of fancy – and then see it through.
So what’s the enduring appeal of the arrogant pop star? It’s simple: we are attracted to these narcissists because they live life free of self-doubt.Imagine that feeling – to wake up every day secure in the knowledge that you are great. There’s no pill in the world that can synthesise a surge of well-being like that.
There’s good egotism and bad egotism, of course. Johnny Borrell once declared himself a genius in these pages, saying: “Dylan’s making the chips, I’m drinking champagne.” But he was a minnow. There was no wit or imagination to his delusions of grandeur. Not like Kanye and the rest of the ego class of 2010. So here’s to music’s towering egotists. It’s their universe. We just live in it.
Why We Love King K
Following just one bloke on Twitter
Who did he choose? Some random bloke from Coventry. “You are the chosen one dun dun dun dun,” he told the teenager.
Invading Taylor Swift’s VMAs speech
His “I’mma let you finish” rant spawned an online meme, and inspired Barack Obama to call him a “jackass”. He’s been invited back.
Working with Bon Iver
Kanye flew Bon Iver man Justin Vernon to Hawaii to work on his new album. Wonder if Justin will invite Kanye to his log cabin in return…
Social media blitz
After playing private gigs for employees at Facebook and Twitter, he apologised to Twitter staff: “Sorry for interrupting y’all lunch with my super-compelling impromptu performance.”
This article originally appeared in the August 21 issue of NME