The Kanye Show: Entertainment or cause for concern?
In 2013, the former child star Amanda Bynes captivated the social media world with a series of increasingly erratic tweets.
She called out people for being “ugly,” feuded with other celebs and made her feelings about rapper Drake embarrassingly clear. It was obvious she was spiraling out of control, but it was difficult to look away from the wreckage, being concisely delivered in bursts of 140 characters at a time. After the tweets dried up, however, reality struck: Bynes landed in a psychiatric hospital, and she has since all but totally dropped out of public life.
Which brings us to Kanye West.
The rapper’s Twitter feed has become the world’s most boffo real-time reality show, beginning with ’Ye’s utter dismantling of fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa on Jan. 27 (“You wouldn’t have a child if it wasn’t for me,” he tweeted, “I own your child!!!!”). The sideshow has continued with declarations of Bill Cosby’s innocence, details of his own debt (and his open begging to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to help recoup those losses, which he says are in the neighborhood of $53 million) and acknowledgments that his own ego is a problem.
Whether Kanye West is truly in trouble or if he’s just being Kanye West — or if those things are synonymous — is difficult to discern. For all we know, he could be trolling the masses in a grand piece of performance art. But that seems unlikely, and what was once an entertaining diversion — the life and times of Kanye West, America’s foremost egomaniac — has become a sad portrait of what looks like a real-time meltdown.
“I’ve been out of my mind a long time,” Kanye raps on his new album, but these days his outbursts seem less like flights of fancy and more like clear signs of mental illness. At what point do we as fans or audience members become complicit in a public figure’s meltdown? His tweets have the power to immediately ignite discussions, thinkpieces and headlines, the crazier the better. “People wanted me to tweet again well here’s some tweets!!!” he wrote earlier this week, implicating us all in his breakdown.
Kanye’s Twitter is not the only evidence that Yeezus is in crisis. The rollout of his latest album “The Life of Pablo” has been riddled with speed bumps; he was still tinkering with the album’s title a day before its debut, and he’s continued to play with the album’s tracklisting and final edit even after he unveiled the album to the world via a fashion show and album listening party at Madison Square Garden (which was simulcast via the Internet and beamed into movie theaters for paying customers worldwide).
The album itself is a grand mess, full of bursts of creativity and hints of greatness, but mostly half-formed ideas that sound like first drafts, rather than a final product, startling for an artist so prone to perfectionism. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t yet “officially” released it — he’s said he’s still tinkering with the final mix — even after he made it available to stream through Tidal following his performance on “Saturday Night Live” last week.
Backstage at that “SNL” performance, Kanye was taped sounding off about his importance in the culture. “By 50 percent more influential than any other human being!” he was heard shouting, in audio obtained by the New York Post. Kanye is no stranger to boasts about his own greatness; it’s part of his persona, and what people love (and love to hate) about him. What was alarming about the “SNL” audio was those words were spoken in private, not as part of a public performance, further blurring the lines between the character Kanye plays and the person he truly is.
The lack of a filter is part of what has always made Kanye West so compelling, and we’re so used to being fed soundbites from artists and celebrities that it’s refreshing when someone speaks their mind. It’s what made Charlie Sheen’s “Tiger Blood” period so fascinating, and it’s what was, at least initially, interesting about Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
We also love watching celebrities fall apart, whether it’s Anna Nicole Smith’s reality show, Britney Spears’ head-shaving or tabloid stories about Lindsay Lohan’s behavior. Crazy sells, and it’s Kanye’s main form of currency. It’s an acknowledgment of the wild streak that runs through us all, and we get to watch it play out at a safe distance.
But Bynes and Sheen crashed and burned, and Anna Nicole wound up dead. Britney, bless her heart, has barely been allowed to string together four words in public since 2007, and Lohan’s last notable on-screen role was in “Scary Movie 5” opposite, yes, Charlie Sheen.
Trump, on the other hand, continues to barrel toward the White House, setting a new bar for what we deem as acceptable behavior from a political figure. Suddenly, Kanye West’s bid for president in 2020 doesn’t seem quite so outlandish.