Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ryan's Nominee: Kanye West

Since I don't really talk to anybody's dad or ever see anybody from Only in America, I will continue my tradition of worthless Man of the Year nominations. Made even more worthless by the fact that I missed the deadline, and I'm only awake at 6:15 on Saturday morning because my cat stabbed me with his talons to let me know how badly he wanted his breakfast salmon.

Here we are at the end of 2010. I feel like 2010 was really what the past decade has been cooking up and building towards. The total downslide of all pop culture just happened to coincide with our exits from the carefree and fun times of high school and college right into the abyss of 40-hour work weeks (apologies, Chris and Tim). It all coincided with the expansion and evolution of the internet, and what exactly it offers to the entertainment industry and its consumers. Try to imagine what a classroom looks like today, or even lunch period. Every kid on a smartphone, tweeting about how boring English class was, posting a sweet pic of that fat nerd kid sleeping at the table, while listening to some soulless, overproduced trash in his cheap earbuds, and updating his Facebook status to let all of his personality-free friends know how crazy it's gonna get up in this bitch tonight.

Art always reflects its generation, and I appreciate that for its lack of complexity, because at least it's very clear how depraved America is these days when Kanye West sits atop most music publications' best-of-the-year lists. Most of you reading probably have no idea how much acclaim and sincere praise his album received, from the old guard of Rolling Stone and Spin, to the "blogosphere" sites like Pitchfork and AV Club (these are real things). With the music sites it's even more disturbing, given that most of the time they're fondling bands that are "challenging" and sound like the aural equivalent of anal fissures. However, as a music dweeb, these sites actually help me find the occasional decent band, because MTV sure as hell doesn't offer a damn thing musical these days. So how do supposedly sophisticated music journalists come to give Mr. West the rare 10.0 score? And, in extension, why do I see statuses reflecting this adulation in my Facebook news feed?

The answer stands on the stage, but also behind the curtain. In the shadows, the music industry suits have watched their empire crumble to a pile of dust over the past ten years. The number one source of revenue, record sales, has shrunk to a small fraction of what it used to be because of piracy. Nearly all money is made now from licensing to TV shows and commercials, and by getting artists to sign a 360 deal, which gives the label a portion of the artist's main source of income: touring and merchandise. As a record label executive, how do you make big bucks when MTV does not show music videos anymore, people steal all their music, and the internet has fractured any sense of centrality to your product?

You do what sports media and the movie industry has done: you create stories out of celebrities, and celebrities out of stories. You make your artists into some over-the-top lightning rod of shenanigans, who resemble more performance art than actual human being. There are so many opportunities to run with! And no matter what story you turn your employee into, you know for a fact the public will buy it, because they buy everything. For the sake of not frying the BMBS circuits, I'll cut it down to one particular trend.

The redemption story. Mind you, the 2010 version of redemption, as presented in the media, resembles nothing close to the humble, inward path of atoning for one's mistakes. Nah, "redemption" (you have to hear it in your head as said kinda slow and with a sing-song cadence - try it: "Hey...yo...this my re-DEMP-shyun...word") nowadays is a polite way of a celebrity's management telling us, "Eeeh, sorry, guys. We still have lots of money to make on our client. Despite the fact that he [rode around with loaded automatic weapons] [punched his celebrity girlfriend's face in] [electrocuted and drowned dogs] [interrupted a pretty white girl's acceptance speech at an awards show], he's really sorry and looking to redeem himself! Let's watch as the drama unfolds!"

So Vick performs well in his return to football. Chris Brown has gone on to do just fine after his latest album release. Lil Wayne and T.I. have probably gotten more famous since their jail time. They appear in magazines, posing with their eyes closed and their hands clasped near their face as if they are praying. The public are so quick to forgive and forget, not because they believe in the power of the human spirit or anything, but because they don't want to be bothered. They just want the next hit, the next story (Pat Holland snap, snap, snap), more things to tweet about, more things to give thumbs up to on Facebook, or showcase our educational system's successful teaching of grammar through YouTube comments.

And Kanye West's whole debacle perhaps demonstrates the worst of all of those. At least those fine gentlemen had the decency to actually commit a real crime. See, Kanye and his handlers, they went even lower. They saw the bar wasn't just low for the masses; it was buried under a trailer home along with the meth stash and scattered body parts. Why bother having to go to court or jail? Just manufacture a problem, and rather than have it be criminal, why not just reflect the shallowness, the vanity, and the emptiness of the buying public? That's it! JUST BE ANNOYING.

It's brilliant. "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Okay, there you go - talked about for at least a year. Oh, by the way he's a rapper, and in the intelligent, black-rimmed glasses and beard group, rap, or "hip hop" (come on, let's be highbrow here), is the untouchable. You can never criticize hip-hop, and it's because those greaseball, tight cut-off jeans wearing, bicycle-riding crackers don't want you to think their liberalism is tainted by potential racism. It's rap, and it sucks. Always will. The only way it can be of any value is when it's being parodied, and even that's obnoxious. But, if they treat hip-hop as equal to creating notes from instruments and using your vocal cords to sing rather than talk, well then it shows how, like, duuuude, all art is equal, brah.

Kanye uses all available tools of media to his gain. He apparently has quite the nutty and cuuuhrazy Twitter account! He makes press conferences that are so wacky that late night hosts have jokes about them in their monologues. South Park thoroughly nails him on all his obviousness, and I guess only some people get it. And, then, of course, the much publicized "I'ma let you finish" interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV VMAs. How this became such a phenomenon, we will never really know. How nearly every single dingleberry who ate it up could not clearly see it was all planned out by Kanye and his management as just another ploy for the spotlight goes beyond comprehension. Let's also not forget the victimization of poor Taylor Swift, who represents the same spectrum, but just the other end of it. See, with one hand the industry serves the controversy of Kanye, but with the other hand offers the safe, inoffensive, and violently bland Taylor Swift as a palate cleanser. One is the heel, the other the face - it's all wrestling.

So for the 2010 VMAs the angle (or storyline, learn your wrestling jargon, noob) was, "What will happen with, like, Taylor and Kanye? Will they, like, come out together and do a skit? Or will Taylor, like, oh my god, this would be so funny, would she, like, interrupt Kanye if he wins an award? OMG - must tune in. REtweet!" None of those things happened. Instead Taylor "Well, I had a banana for breakfast, and then I drove to work. And, I'm pretty sure I hit every red light on the way. So, yeah, went to work, did some work, went to lunch. Had another meeting, ugh, don't you just hate meetings? And, then went home. Traffic was pretty bad, but the weather was nice. What's the weather supposed to be like this weekend?" Swift sang about the incident in the most hilariously serious way. And you knew it was serious, because they were flashing the lyrics on the screen.

Kanye ends the show by coming out to perform a song off the aforementioned acclaimed new album. I remember the chorus saying something like, "This is a song for all the assholes, for all the douchebags," etc. The intended effect being that it makes you tilt your head, put your hand under your chin, and nod several times and say, "Hmm. I see that he's reaching out. Normally his lyrics are the typical braggadocious, arrogant content of the hip-hop genre, but I am impressed with his humbled and contrite new approach. Perhaps I shall have discussions with my other hiveminded brethren who treat music with intellectual discourse, and we will then come to a collective position on the significance and cultural impact that is the new Kanye West music album. If we have time, I will propose we assign it a crackling new label, such as 'hip-pop.' Or 'hip-hip. Together we shall proclaim this jawdropper of a record, with its rhyming of words and patterns of electronic backbeats, the record of the year. We will state this so assuredly that we'll even start to believe it to be our actual opinion, rather than a way to increase page hits and ad dollars!"

And so the 21st century releases the Kraken, its tentacles mashing together the ships of popular culture, celebrity obsession, and supposedly intelligent music journalism and opinion. The hype machine pumps itself into an undying frenzy, and Kanye West fuels it, laughing with his interesting wardrobe and deliberate eccentricity. He embodies Man of the Year, Man of 2010, because nothing else represents the disgrace of this moment in time more than the success of Kanye West.


Patrick said...

Man this is long and I'm not really sure what all's going on here. But if we can just all agree that Kanye is terrible and talentless and that rap is and has always been worthless, then we're good.

MAR said...

I say Ryan had a right to write this....still not sure why

Patrick said...

I get where he's coming from. The problem is, if I put Kayne up as someone to vote for, any random traffic the blog gets could translate into votes for him.

Ryan said...

I didn't expect it to actually count as a nomination. I just felt like venting.

HANK said...

I remember watching Kanye's "apology" to Taylor Swift a week or so after the VMA awards via some mundane morning show on ABC, CBS, or NBC.

Kanye blamed the whole incident on his "alcoholism", which is a result of his mother's death. Of course, we must further reflect pop culture's teaching that you are never at fault for your actions. There is always some deep seeded outside force which is the cause, and not your free will. There was never an apology, just the blame game.

But, I did not think about management's PR role in Kanye's actions. Made some good points, Ryan. The scary thing is, MTV and the internet are raising an army of little Kanye's, which are now invading our universities and will soon be in our workforce. The future of our culture looks bleak.