Just know, I wrote this before the release of today’s absurd/naked/enjoyable “Bound 2” video. But you should also know, even if I’d seen the video a week ago, I’d have written the same exact thing. Call it a “Leave Britney Alone” piece if you like, but I’m going to call it a defense of two people who, despite their existences, remain underappreciated. Seriously.
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are easy targets.
The slightest paparazzi run-in, bizarre quote, or questionable photo almost automatically lands either of them in the monologues of late night talk shows, on magazine covers, and in ranting internet columns. The media, and America as a whole, makes a sport out of criticizing and lambasting celebrities, with Kim and Kanye being two people who have a habit of enhancing the games.
Last month, after a Twitter outburst directed at Jimmy Kimmel, Kanye went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to set the record straight. Kanye acted as he usually does, which is to say that the blogs were abuzz the next day, re-posting clips of the interview and saying how insane Kanye sounded. He went on and on about his creative genius, why he deserves more respect in the fashion world, and how Kim Kardashian should have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Basically, he sounded like his crazy, delusional self.
Thing is…he’s not entirely wrong, and might not be as batty as we think. In fact, some of his points are spot on and rather defensible.
One aspect of the interview that people took umbrage with was Kanye proclaiming himself a creative genius. Musically speaking, he is a creative genius, and there isn’t much room for negotiation. His work speaks for itself. The problem is, he also speaks for himself too often when he doesn’t need to. He’s put out six solo albums in just under ten years, producing nearly every song in addition to rapping. All of these albums have been, for the most part, pretty damn good. Ask anyone under the age of 30 what they think of “The College Dropout” or “Graduation” and they’ll flip. The one outlier is “808s & Heartbreak,” which sounded odd not because it was subpar, but because it was such an extreme departure from what his previous albums sounded like and what hip hop sounds like in general.
That brings up another point about Kanye’s creative genius: His music doesn’t necessarily sound what we expect hip hop to sound like. More impressively, when he releases music that’s unlike anything else we’ve heard, there’s a consensus of “Wow, Kanye is taking this to a new place,” which you can’t say about many other rappers, or other musicians period. Just look at his latest, “Yeezus.” It came out this summer around the same time Jay-Z dropped “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” Jay’s album felt like he and the guys sat around pressing different buttons on the sound machine in an attempt to craft an advanced sounding record. He delivered an unmemorable CD with songs sounding overly complicated for no reason that, while each being very involved with a mixture of elements, ultimately all kind of sounded the same.
Ye’s album, despite being his weakest non-808s effort in my opinion, gave us songs like “Black Skinhead,” “Blood on the Leaves,” and “Bound 2.” These are all excellent songs with unique sounds. You hear the song, you know what it is. Kanye did with his record what Jay failed to do with his: Give the people a new sound, something with an eye towards the future, something that advanced our collective musical consciousness and took it to a new place. Kanye routinely reaches levels that at least 90% of the world’s musicians, hip hop or otherwise, simply cannot achieve. And he does so while executive producing the whole project, individually producing each beat, writing a big portion of the lyrics, and spitting the rhymes.
Now, when it comes to fashion, I’m not as sure. I haven’t exactly followed fashion the way I’ve followed rap, but I have seen how adamant Kanye is about having a sharp eye. His issue with the industry is that they won’t let him in. It’s an “old money” type of institution whose snobbery is far too ingrained to ever give someone like him a shot. The irony is that Kanye’s main source of fame has come from an industry—entertainment—that is notorious for being the industry which presents the toughest barriers to entry. But Kanye’s got time and money to burn, so one would think that if he can get noticed by Jay-Z, he can get noticed by Givenchy. Maybe the fashion establishment is keeping him out due to socio-political reasons as he claims, or maybe he’s just no good at designing clothes. I don’t know. But I will say this: If Kanye ever does become a fashion impresario, how will people then question his creative genius? His musical prowess is more than enough for me to call him a creative genius, but if he were to conquer the fashion industry as well, I think other people might finally come around.
Another point people take Kanye to task over is his claim that Kim deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Most people would scoff and say “Oh, she’s only famous because of a sex tape” and that would be that. But that shouldn’t be that, because Kim, despite whatever you may think of her, has built an empire and become a star. Actually, I’d go so far and say that she’s the most famous person in America.
Since the infamous sex tape, she’s had several successful shows on national cable networks, allowing Kim to retain her fame. She’s also remained relevant by gracing the cover of every pop culture magazine on the planet, and of course, by posting salacious internet photos.
Here’s one way to look at it. Next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the magazines by the checkout line. At least one of them will feature a Kardashian, likely Kim. Those are celebrity magazines that exclusively cover famous people. Kim has been, for many years now, on the cover of those magazines nearly every single week. If America wants to read about you and find out every detail of your life every single week for a prolonged period of time, you are the most famous person in America. Simple as that.
After Kanye’s Walk of Fame assertion, a spokeswoman for the Walk of Fame came out and decreed that reality stars don’t qualify for a star. That’s a nice policy, but it’s not one that the Walk of Fame necessarily adheres to. Case in point: Ryan Seacrest. Would Seacrest qualify as anything but a reality star? He hosts a singing competition show. He hosts a celebrity gossip news show. He hosts a New Year’s Eve show. I must have missed his guest stint on “Mad Men.” And here’s the kicker: He produces Kardashian’s show. So, the Walk of Fame thinks the producer of a reality show is good enough for a star on the Walk, but the actual star of that very same show isn’t good enough?
What’s more is that the distinctions on each star don’t say “scripted television” or “reality television” or “news television” or whatever. It’s a little television icon. You know why? Because a television star is a television star, reality or otherwise. Yes, Kim entered our lives through her sex tape, but she’s remained at the forefront for a variety of reasons, her television work chief among them.
Kanye West is many things. He’s outspoken, talented, and controversial. And yeah, sometimes even a little bit crazy and delusional. But when it comes to proclamations about being a creative genius and his girlfriend’s place in television, he’s absolutely correct.