It’s the dream of any budding young musician – the ability to sack off all the bullshit, cut yourself off from the wider world, and completely focus on your creativity. Unfortunately – and particularly given these fucked up times we’re living through – that pipedream doesn’t really have a place in reality.
Enter Kanye West, a man who’s spent the last few months bedding himself in with all sorts of wretched associates, in a misguided quest to expose the ‘truth’, and gain true edgelord status. From popping on a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, to meeting Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office for a cuddle, to just this week being reportedly recruited to design a bunch of t-shirts for right-winger Candace Owens’ ‘Blexit’ (eurgh) campaign, which seeks to encourage black Americans to distance themselves from the Democratic Party. He’s become best buds with a who’s who of right-wing political pundits, each of them grinning like a Disney villain as Kanye spouted their rhetoric, to endless despair from his established fanbase.
Through it all, Kanye’s stood resolute in his half-formed opinions. He’s batted away criticism, claiming people were trying to silence him. He’s declared that “you don’t have to agree with Trump, but the mob can’t make me not love him”, calling the US President his “brother”. He’s confided in his wife, only to ignore her criticism of his actions. He’s declared “I’m not political”. Only now, he’s… gone and changed his mind.
Taking to Twitter (where else?) last night, Kanye decided he’s had enough of his little political sojourn. In a series of tweets that seemed remarkably level-headed and well-written – ghostwritten, perhaps? – he declared his support for creating jobs, prison reform, “common-sense gun laws”, the armed forces, asylum seekers and “holding people who misuse their power accountable”. He thanked his family, loved ones and community for sticking by him through a period where he hugged, in front of the world’s press, a man who stands for very little of the aforementioned.
Kanye then went on to declare that he’d been hoodwinked by Candace Owens into that whole ‘Blexit’ (seriously, euuurgh) thing, stating: “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative !!!” So that’s that, then, right? We can all go back to stanning Kanye based solely on his brilliant art?
Well, herein lies the problem, Mr. West. Distancing oneself from politics is an admirable aim – hey, we’d all like to live our lives free of political impact from time to time. Unfortunately, politics doesn’t just lie in whether you side with a party, or whether you fancy a nice new red hat. Politics is everywhere, and wrapped up in everything.
Try telling the children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border that you’re focussing on your creativity. Try letting those subjected to a rise in racially-motivated attacks since Trump’s appointment know that, actually, your next Yeezy drop will make it all worth it. Try telling Heather Heyer, who died in Charlottesville at the hands of a neo-Nazi, or the people gunned down at their place of worship just last week, that ‘Yandhi’ will be worth the wait.
You can’t, because your actions speak louder than your creativity, and a damn sight louder than your tweets. These actions may not be Kanye’s sole responsibility – to proclaim so would be irresponsible – but his movements this year have only served to legitimise the kind of thought processes that go into them.
Meeting with someone like Donald Trump; sharing articles and truth-fluid videos from right-wing YouTubers; labelling anyone who criticises these moves “thought police” – these are all actions which have an impact. They play a part in the wider political conversation. A man of Kanye’s cultural stature taking A Stance normalises the things that they proclaim to be true, or right. You can’t just shut yourself away from the world and twinkle away on Pro Tools – you’re a citizen of this system, whether you like it or not.
The alt-right have flocked to Kanye’s side in the past few months. They’ve lapped up his moves with a devilish grin, knowing exactly what a positive impact such a prominent figure – one who once famously declared that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” – will have on Donald Trump and the right-wing’s image. In normalising the actions of the right-wing (despite, if last night’s tweets are to be believed, disagreeing with a huge chunk of Trump’s core policies), he’s given them a huge platform, and softened the edges of their ghastly rhetoric by presenting it with a friendly face. It’s too late to take that back.
Kanye is a troubled man – that much is clear. His actions are erratic, and always have been. He was reportedly diagnosed with bipolar disorder – a diagnosis he recently rejected. But, if you’ll allow me to so brazenly quote Spider-Man in an otherwise serious statement, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. If Kanye really wanted to leap into the political fray, for self-promotion or otherwise, he owed it not just to his fans, but to the world at large, to do his research. If he really believes in “holding people who misuse their power accountable”, maybe it’s time to take a long overdue look in the mirror.