Kanye West’s drama is addictive, and that’s why we keep watching. As his delirious thoughts bat us back and forth, we find ourselves agreeing and shocked at every turn. He encapsulates a particular feeling, and then immediately finds a way to say something so myopic that almost everyone disagrees with it. He elicits inspiration, rage, confusion and genuine concern for his well-being at neck-breaking turns.
His latest Twitter rants aren’t really strange behavior for him, they’re just a very immediate public demonstration of an odd lack of self-awareness and possible mental illness that’s been captivating the world for years. It’s in his lyrics, his interviews, his fashion lines, in the unnerving way he reacts when he catches himself laughing in public.
There’s something truly brilliant about Kanye. He’s been experimenting with interesting sounds since he came on the scene, and this is where he shines. Where he falters in his music, as well as his tweets, is when he puffs up his creativity with grand comparisons. He’s not the next Einstein, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, Jesus, St. Paul, Walt Disney or whoever. He uses those names to prop himself up. He’s himself, and that should be enough, but it isn’t. It’s not Kanye’s ego that’s the problem, it’s his obsession with it.
To further his alienation from the audience he seduces then affronts, he slips unnecessary petty jabs (like the one against Taylor Swift) into an album like The Life of Pablo, unsettling the mood created by his thrillingly wonderful sounds. No matter what he’s doing, Taylor Swift and her undeniable success, a success that doesn’t fit in with his worldview, is never far from his mind. Humans create gods at every turn, and in this way, Kanye’s work truly is a god dream. Who the god seems to be varies with his whims. Most of the time, it’s him. Sometimes it’s Taylor Swift. Sometimes it’s a religious figure. Sometimes it’s whoever’s listening, or it can feel like it. His vibes can lift us up, make us feel like it’s okay to dig ourselves, to flatter ourselves with our own importance. Then he deflates that helium high with a stunning bravado that reminds us why ego is a delicate Goldilocks situation. This god he’s continually conjuring can sometimes seem like different things, but it’s always Kanye and his consciousness. The threat of other consciousness, of other realities that don’t include him or his qualifications of excellence, threaten his sovereignty.
Like most sensitive, self-obsessed people, Kanye can be excellent at self-expression, but his relationship with his ego is precariously fraught, and all too important. He can never be at peace with it, which is compelling because it’s relatable. We’re all struggling with our egos and wanting to feel important. But even when he stumbles toward self-awareness, Kanye focuses too much on the ego again, blaming it for his mistakes instead of just leaving it be. Ego is a word so loaded with guilt and psychobabble, but the essence of what it is is just an unavoidable part of being human. When we try to shed it or blame it, we’re attempting an impossible feat. Being comfortable with our own egos AND the egos of others is almost as impossible, but it’s always something we can move towards.
We’re drawn to Kanye because we see reflections of ourselves in him, our love for “self” and our struggles with jealousy and comparisons, but then we recoil because he always pushes it too far, about as far as possible. He’s daring us to love him because he’s daring himself to love him. He sees the public as an extension of this self (going so far as to think he should govern the outcomes all music award shows even regarding, especially regarding, the music he didn’t make) so when he tests us, it’s just him testing himself. We’re all like that, alienated in our own world, but pinpricks of connection send us signals that there are other people out there, wrestling with their own, unknowable dramas. Some people can’t accept that- the vast strangeness of the minds and lives of others. Anyone can only accept it to a certain degree, and that’s why when Kanye tweets and screams, raging against an existential dilemma that, for all his varied vocabulary, he never quite articulates, we can’t look away.
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