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Kanye West, Performance and Controversy

Kanye West MAGA hat


Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. He calls himself a genius. Causing public outcries appears to be part of his toolkit of skills – unless you buy into the idea that he is a hair’s breadth away from insanity: but isn’t that where genius resides?

In an interview on TMZ Live, on 2 May 2018, the discussion subject was free thinking and Kanye West used the opportunity to throw hot oil, disguised as words, onto a burning fire when he contended that enduring 400 years of slavery could be seen as a choice by people from the African diaspora. The comment has had its desired effect. Social media immediately went into a meltdown, and after the initial outrage people started using the clapback hashtag #IfSlaveryWasAChoice to show what an incredulous reception that statement received.

Kanye West is a public figure, he is an artist, he is a performer. What he is not is the spokesman for the whole of the African American people in the world, or those of the wider African diaspora. His comments are his opinion, he is one man in a world of 7.6 billion people; many of whom are scholars of the history of the world and have facts to confirm their assertions.

The TMZ interview was a peak moment in West’s strategy that could have been taken from his personal playbook I believe is called ‘The Art of Performance’. I believe that West’s history shows that controversy is a part of his normal currency – this interview was, in my opinion, a carefully calculated performance in the carnivalesque style of destabilising or reversing power structures, or it could be true that Kanye West is continually experiencing an existential and mental health crisis in the public arena. It could be either of those situations or it could be the fact that he is due to release an album soon.

When Kanye West to comments that, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” it is obvious that responses to this assertion will be met with anger.  West contends his main belief is in the mental slavery of the present and not the historical past, however his comments intentionally created a strong emotional response from supporters and detractors alike.

Van Lathan, a TMZ employee, confronted West about his on screen comments stating, “I am unbelievable hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something to me, that’s not real.” West apologised for using his words to hurt Lathan and explained that his strategy – his performance with meeting President Trump and also wearing the MAGA hat – is to get close to people in power to alter outcomes by using the mode of love instead of hatred. West explained that using the media is his artist’s way of opening up a conversation by creating images with a “paintbrush and [a] canvas”.

To prove his mental stability West quoted Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” So, is Kanye actually a genius? He says he is because he learns from his mistakes. Is his bromance part of a bigger plan to destabilise the fragile sensibilities of the 45th President of the United States – who courts publicity and fame in the same way that some musicians do? It appears to be working as Trump noted an increase in his African American approval rating following West’s photo of his signed MAGA hat.

West also spoke to the whole of the studio floor of TMZ employees and suggested that his dream is to encourage people to be free thinkers instead of people who chose to live in the stimulation, the forced reality – like the Matrix? Kanye West insists that he will not be minimised to mere memes of a hip-hop artist, or a Black man in a Black community; he insists that he represents the world and speaks for everybody’s right to think freely and choose alliances freely. Should he be restricted by his musical history, his community history or his social history?

Kanye West is one person who chooses not to be corralled in behaviour or thought – apart from if people think he’s overweight, then he’ll have liposuction and take opioids. That’s his right he says. Who am I to disagree with someone who says in the same interview, “White supremacy is a redundant statement in America – whites are supreme, that’s what we’re taught”?

Kanye West is a performance maestro. He knows his craft and completes his acts well. Every time.

©Marjorie H Morgan 2018