The controversy known as Kanye West
Charlie Gershinson evaluates Kanye Wests’ career and how he has maintained his fame following further controversies.
As a man of Jewish heritage who – in all honesty – has very little interest in either rap music or the eccentric career of Kanye “Ye” West, you can forgive me for being taken aback by his recent antisemitic tweets. Waking up one morning to see the rapper declare “death con 3” on all Jewish people was, at the very least, perplexing. Upon later seeing him allude to the “New World Order” theory of Jewish control of the media and other worldwide institutions in a Twitter conversation with fellow artist Diddy, my surprise quickly turned to shock and then an uneasy sense of concern.
I now hope to discover how, in an age of social media and cancel culture, he can remain popular with both the celebrity class and the public at large. Perhaps a key reason is the legacy his music will leave behind. West is seen by some as almost the quintessential rapper. According to the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, West has perfectly “embodied” the “contradictory impulses of narcissism and social good”. This is while making his genre more accessible to the general public through writing about “middle-class values or high fashion and high-art dreams”. West’s impact is certainly clear as the third top-selling rap artist of all time only behind Eminem and Drake with 140 million units sold so far.
How, in an age of social media and cancel culture, can he remain popular?
Given his foundation as a pop culture figure purely through his music, I wondered how West could take up so much of the public imagination on a semi-regular basis. Much of this comes from his numerous, almost continuous, scandals and outbursts. From inferring that one Republican president – George W. Bush – as racist to glad-handing with his controversial successor Donald Trump, he is consistently able to maintain in the public eye for ventures outside of music. More recently, he appeared at his Yeezy fashion show in Paris where he wore a ‘White Lives Matter’ t-shirt and appeared with controversial conservative commentator Candace Owens.
This provocative behaviour, however, has a sinister side. It is well known that West has had personal issues with his ex-wife and mother of his children, Kim Kardashian. While the couple divorced after “irreconcilable differences” in 2021, their relationship has stayed in the headlines. West has attacked Kardashian’s partner Pete Davidson online, such as by featuring Davidson’s beheading in a Claymation music video – which has raised concerns for Kardashian and those close to her. Comedian Trevor Noah suggested that because Kardashian is famous, she would likely evoke little public empathy. This behaviour, however, is still “terrifying to watch”.
Much of this comes from his numerous, almost continuous, scandals and outbursts
Considering West’s antics have harmed those closest to him and caused grave concern for his well-being, how is he still able to continue in the public spotlight seemingly unhindered? This is a complex question which cannot be answered easily, but the answer perhaps lies in the media ecosystem in which we currently find ourselves.
If a man such as West is as popular for his music as he is for his eclectic political views, then they may be papered over – whether by record labels or brand sponsorships. Seeing as West’s behaviour has been tolerated and even rewarded by recent media appearances, such as on Tucker Carlson Tonight, and continued support by his brand sponsorships a chilling thought comes to mind. If West’s actions keep drawing outsized attention with no consequences, what motivation would Ye have to ever stop on his own accord?