by Lauren Pabst
On Sunday, at the MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s sweet, fluttery, flattered acceptance speech for “Best Female Video of the Year,” boldly proclaiminig that he was happy for Taylor but that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! It seemed like a desperate play for the affections of either Beyoncé, her fans, his own egotistically loved personal opinion or (less likely) aficionados of the work of choreographer Bob Fosse (Beyoncé’s “Put a Ring On It” video dance routine was almost entirely cribbed from Fosse’s 1969 “Mexican Breakfast” combination. The proof is in the YouTube).
He definitely had an unnecessary outburst. But really, who the heck knows what it was all about?
It was RUDE, everyone agrees. An offended Jay Leno even seemed reluctant let Kanye apologize (probably a huge ratings draw) on the premiere episode of his 10pm talk show Monday night. After hearing his seemingly sincere apology, Jay pulled some kind of kindly old principal rank on a stunned Kanye, chastising him, and even asking him what his mother – who passed away a few years ago and Jay had met once – would have thought of the embarrassing, probably drunken, incident.
She probably wouldn’t have liked it, Kanye West agreed, appearing flabbergasted as much as ashamed.
[I had a crazy flash that maybe Jay Leno was trying to demonstrate to Bill Cosby and Barack Obama how he thought black boys should be disciplined by their absent male role models that we hear so much about. But Kanye West is a grown man over 30!]
Kanye West was being a pop star boy behaving badly. Wait, that sounds familiar.
When Justin Timberlake snatched off the clothes of Janet Jackson at Superbowl XXXVIII in 2004, it was Janet who apologized in the immediate aftermath. It was a “wardrobe malfunction” Janet claimed, a move that went wrong. Timberlake – who had played the very active role of “ripper of bustiers” within the incident – kept mum, that is, until CBS threatened to ban him and Janet from performing at the Grammys unless they made public apologies to the network and copped to the fact that the whole thing was not a mistake. Timberlake acquiesced but Janet refused and was barred from the ceremony.
In context, Kanye’s outburst – though rude to Taylor Swift – was a pretty Chicagoland, John Hughes-style tortured insider/outsider making a move for the pretty girl by interrupting the prom queen, utterly corny maneuver. Kanye West seems to think that the MTV Network is the school administration and he is the Judd Nelson character pumping a fist. (But Kanye, take it from this fellow cheesy Midwesterner and onetime 80’s aficionado, the 80’s are way over.)
In the past few years, Kanye has made a habit of making a spectacle of himself at awards shows, showing bad sportsmanship and egotism. His lyrics have turned towards the sexualized and shallow (“She love my big, (hahaha), Ego” – on his latest collabo with, hm, Beyoncé). When he does dig deep (like on his brooding, autotune-heavy latest LP “808s and Heartbreak”), it’s about his own emotions and relationships. It seems superstardom has been weird and hard on the goofy kid from Chicago who broke onto the scene by providing infectious beats for Jay-Z then sing-songily rapping on his 2004 debut “The College Dropout” about self-consciousness, materialism, discrimination at the Gap, family reunions, car accidents and Luther Vandross.
Things seemed to take an obnoxious turn after the fascinating events of 2005. In 2005, Kanye had just put out a song about diamonds from Sierra Leone (Where? The kids found out, hopefully, when the song caught on) and spoke out boldly on another live television event.
On an evening at the beginning of hurricane season, they stood side by side in the telethon television studio: Mike Myers, Austin Powers, Wayne’s World himself was somber, talking of needing money for relief efforts in New Orleans. Kanye West seemed stoic and frantic at the same time as he poured out a series of thoughts about the stranded, hungry, hunted poor Black people in New Orleans that he saw on TV that culminated with “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” before the live feed was cut.
(He could have gone even farther; George Bush doesn’t seem to really care about many people except maybe other people named George Bush.)
That was probably the last outburst of quality from Mr. West to date. With all that’s around to burst out about, last weekend’s display from Kanye was boring at best, cringe worthy at worst.
But it got the news cycle churning with fresh gristle; the info-tainment and enter-mation shows chewed on this eagerly like cud for 24 hours until the sad death of “wrong-side-of-the-tracks” love affair movie icon Patrick Swayze.
The liberating, juvenile, giddy admissions of confusion that have made about ½ of his songs so loveable and interesting now seems muddled by the muck of fame. In a business that rewards egoism, it’s not hard to see why Kanye has embraced this aspect of himself that he has seemed to wrestle with on earlier tracks.
It’s not too late for Kanye (still young, though not young enough to be scolded so by Jay Leno).