Photo Credit: ET Online
“You’ve got a lot of nerve / to say you are my friend” – Bob Dylan
My first experience with Kanye West came when a school-friend played me Yeezus. I was struck immediately by the textural abrasiveness of the music; the production was unlike anything I’d ever heard (or have heard since, in fact). More surprising however, were the disappointing lyrics. Kanye’s aggression is, throughout the album, frequently misplaced and for every occasion he gets it right, there’s a hundred where he gets it so wrong. New Slaves for example – a brilliant metaphor, ruined by the ultra crass “I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse […] came in her Hampton mouth”. You can’t make cutting edge social commentary and be as careless as Kanye is throughout Yeezus. Elsewhere on the record, Asian women, God and even those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease receive ill-placed mentions. Subsequently, despite battling it over and over, I find I can’t listen to Yeezus anymore. This imbalance in West’s music, between the rarely excellent and the oppressively massive awful is an equation I like to call the Kanye West Dichotomy – I wrote a feature about it back in February.
Also in February of this year, Kanye (sort-of) released The Life Of Pablo. It threatened to be 10 songs long, then 17, and then, on release, it was 18 songs – now, as of June, it’s 20 The record is a living, breathing experiment – for its unavailability versus its omnipresence, its incompleteness versus the absolutism of its creator, for better or for worse; the album is a postmodern masterstroke. Its self-referential cover art is both obsessively introverted as it is obviously tethered to the cubist that no one seems to think it is. Better still, its production values offer the inviting messiness of Yeezus combined with a new, mad eclecticism, for an unpredictable listen that, like the cover art, is both totally original and yet almost entirely reliant on source material. As an artwork, it’s a very exciting record indeed and I will admit that, since reviewing it as part of the February feature, its tailored patchwork has really grown on me. In addition, and most pleasingly, the aggression of the thing has been taken down a few notches; the arrangements are now so purposefully shambolic, that unlike the calculated pristineness of Yeezus, any seemingly ‘lazy’ observations take on an immediately questionable state of being: does he mean it? What does anything mean inside the context of this record? There’s no conviction at all – the album’s too unstable for that, structurally. There are probably better ways of exploring these questions but for a while at least, The Life Of Pablo’s insecurities made it a fascinating beast, not an offensive one.
Even when the video for Famous, the album’s lead single, was released, its hyper-sexuality was consumed by the postmodern eminence of the entire ‘process’, which now also encapsulates West’s fascinating, apocalyptic foray into fashion design. The video used nude wax models of prominent celebrities, from Donald Drumpf, to Rihanna and yes, Taylor Swift. Like its parent album, its confusing lack of solidarity preceded it; whether or not we agree, to quote James Murphy on LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge, “we all know”.
Now that’s all very well.
However, something happened yesterday that needs to be spoken about – frankly, too. Kim Kardashian-West shared video footage of a phone-call taking place between her husband and country-pop megastar Taylor Swift; it appears to validate the long-controversial opening lines of Famous. Critics were quick to question Swift’s consent concerning the song’s first verse: “For all my Southside n***** that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”. As Swift has rightly pointed out in a riposte this morning, the video footage only accounts for her approval of the ‘sex’ line. But regardless of what has and hasn’t been approved, there’s a bigger issue here.
Kardashian’s posting of the footage represents a gross intrusion of privacy. Swift’s call seems to have been recorded without her knowing, let alone consenting – in addition, one ought to consider the scale of this ‘leak’. Kardashian’s Snapchat, the source of the footage in question, is hugely subscribed; media outlets such as Pitchfork have also published transcripts of the video and embedded it in their reportage of the event. Out of sheer decency, we won’t be doing that here.
For a time, at least, we should also boycott The Life Of Pablo. For all the intelligent debates surrounding its questionable status in abstract, there’s a disturbing idiocy in real-life that needs to be understood. Analysts of West’s music, myself included, come under fire for attributing the same values from high-art to his music when arguably, they’re not actually there. In defence of this, I would say that critics may make of something whatever they wish and that the more open an artform, the more ostensibly pleasing it has the capacity to be. Right now however, I have to cut in where it’s right to – take from this album what you want, we can’t any longer pretend however that its postmodernity is deliberate. Maybe that makes it more fascinating – an accident in the labelling of contemporary creativity? I don’t know – really, it’s irrelevant. The only hard fact of the matter, is that someone has been violated by this record. So enough is enough.
I’m not the biggest fan of Taylor Swift’s music, but the position she has been put into by this whole affair is unforgivable. It’s almost tear-inducing to read the statement she posted earlier today: “I would like very much to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of”. I think now about that first encounter with Yeezus – the manipulative way it uses technical mastery to defile your better judgement; to convince you that its words are justified by its brilliant aural design. In the end, you don’t want any part of it – the bits that are good: they’re just not worth it anymore. We can ruminate forever on the changing definition of high-art and analyse the degree of being in modern and postmodern concepts, but when it comes to an injustice of trust, there is sadly, only right and wrong.
Kanye West – you’re wrong.