Kanye West is one of those people who does so much awful, erratic stuff, and gets himself embroiled in so much controversy that you automatically assume there’s some grand plan behind it that you’re just too non-famous to comprehend.
I’ve seen tweets from people who insist that he’s begun making antisemitic statements as a way to get himself out of his restrictive Adidas contract. I’ve seen comments from people who are convinced that he’s torched his reputation as some kind of 4D chess move to get out of paying alimony to his ex-wife Kim Kardashian. I’ve seen people suggest that his public breakdowns are part of some elaborate performance art that will culminate with the release of the greatest album ever made.
We tend to buy in to theories like this because the alternative is just sad: a billionaire who has more resources and adoration than you or I could accrue in a thousand lifetimes is just kind of a dumb, gullible guy. I tend not to agree with the phrase “money can’t buy happiness”, because it’s the kind of thing that only ever seems to be said by people who have a lot of money, but West’s behaviour does cause me to wonder.
Here’s what Kanye West has managed to do to his reputation in the month of October alone: he turned up to a fashion show wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan “White Lives Matter”, a white supremacist dog whistle created to invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement. He later took to Twitter, posting that he was “going death con 3” [sic] on Jewish people, and then went on a little antisemitic world tour where he doubled (and even tripled) down on the statements repeatedly. Since then, brands such as Balenciaga, Gap and JPMorgan Chase have all cut ties with the rapper.
Adidas also eventually ended their collaboration with West, although it did take quite some time; presumably they were under the impression that the rapper would at some point say “sorry, my account was hacked; also, my mouth and T-shirts were hacked” and the entire thing would be forgotten.
If it wasn’t embarrassing enough to be dumped by the Pepsi to Nike’s Coca Cola, West was also escorted from the headquarters of footwear brand Skechers earlier this week, after turning up unannounced and presumably demanding they make ugly shoes with his name on. Imagine being worth more money than God – or perhaps a minor god, as the controversy caused West to lose his billionaire status overnight – and being frogmarched out of the building by the guy who works in security at Skechers. The dream of socialism is alive and well in America.
Getting dissed by a shoe company is one thing, but it somehow gets even more humiliating, as Madam Tussauds removed its wax figure of Kanye West from public view and moved it to what I can only assume is an extremely unsettling archive. Who would have thought that the guy who wrote My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would end up being humiliated by the world’s creepiest candle company? Oh, how the might-Ye have fallen (sorry).
There’s some good news for West though, as the CEO of music streaming company Spotify has said that the company will not be removing West’s music from its platform unless West’s music itself contains explicit hate speech. That seems like an extremely low bar, which comes as no surprise whatsoever from the company that gave Joe Rogan $200m to nod his head at anti-vaxxers, but based on his recent behaviour, part of me does worry that West will see it as a challenge.
I’d like to believe that this string of personal and professional humiliations will have two immediate effects: the withdrawal of Kanye West from public life, and some reflection on his part about why people seem to be so mad at him all the time. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will be the case.
West didn’t become this way in a vacuum. Sure, he has some underlying issues with his mental health and personal life that I’m sure contributed to the extent of his current behaviour, but we’re currently living in a cultual moment where espousing far-right rhetoric is “just another side to the conversation”. When West wore a T-shirt with a white supremacist slogan on it, right-wing provocateur Candance Owens was pictured with him wearing the exact same shirt.
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When he made his remarks on Twitter, he was invited on to Piers Morgan and Tucker Carlson’s shows to explain himself. But he’d already explained himself. His tweets were extremely clear-cut in their wilful and explicit hatred. There wasn’t anything else for him to say, as he’d already said everything we needed to hear from him to know exactly who he is.
It isn’t even like October was a particularly unusual month for West’s erratic behaviour. He’s said that slavery was voluntary. He made threatening comments about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. He was an avid supporter of Donald Trump. I’d say the signs were all there to begin with, but does it count as a “sign” when it’s this blatant?
Kanye West is a problem, but he’s also an object-lesson in what happens when you let violent and far-right rhetoric become just another part of the furniture. Brands kept working with West right up until the exact moment that they couldn’t afford to anymore. Some of them are still platforming him, even now.
Hopefully the retribution against West sticks, and acts as a lesson to others who wish to air their hate in public. Unfortunately, I think he might just be a guide to how far society will allow them to push things before they face any consequences.