Graham: Kanye’s tweetstorm puts fans through the ringer

Yeezy’s tweeting. But at what cost to his fans and to his art?

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. The world is our family. I need to meet with Larry from Google.

These are just three recent dispatches from Planet Kanye, or rather the Twitter account of Kanye West, which has managed to confuse many, irk more and ignite a pop culture wildfire since its reactivation April 13.

Then President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West met in December 2016 in New York.

Even if we were only talking about the new age patter and apparent talk-to-text voice memos he’s been posting to his 28 million followers, there would be plenty to unpack from Yeezy’s Twitter missives. But in doubling down on his support of Donald Trump — the president offered his glowing endorsement of Kanye in return — the rapper has angered many fans and has caused the heads of political pundits to nearly spin off their owners’ necks.

In short, he’s making a lot of people talk, which in the end may be the goal. We’re past the point of the old showbiz adage, “all publicity is good publicity.” In the era of Trump, all attention is attention; people are either talking about you or they’re not. And right now, they’re definitely talking about Kanye West.

But at what cost? Being a Kanye West fan has never been easy, it has always meant defending the often indefensible. (Um ... yes ... he had every right to jump on stage and tell Taylor Swift that Beyoncé should have won that award!) Kanye fans know the drill.

Still, awards show shenanigans are small fries when compared to aligning himself with Trump, a baffling decision for many reasons, Trump’s record on race being just one. Kanye’s recent behavior makes defending him almost impossible. So now what?

Usually Kanye’s music has been able to back up whatever comes out of his mouth. He’s the best and most important artist of his generation, an artistic visionary, a dynamic performer and a magnetic personality. But that music has been slipping; his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” was choppy and still sounds unfinished, a notable misfire from an artist known for his perfectionism. Before he could always lean on the music; that may no longer be the case. The fact that he’s now leading with tweets and not music is frustrating, and how his political views will affect his music raises cause for concern.

With all the chatter currently surrounding Kanye, it’s easy to forget that before his return to Twitter earlier this month — he re-emerged on Friday the 13th, which seems significant — he had been mostly silent for the better part of 16 months, a rare display of self-restraint.

When we last caught up with him, Kanye was meeting publicly with Trump following his victory in the 2016 presidential election — this after Kanye’s cancellation of his Saint Pablo tour and his stay in a Los Angeles hospital after reportedly suffering from exhaustion.

That meeting, in Trump Tower prior to Trump’s inauguration, didn’t go over too well with Ye’s fans. They questioned Kanye’s mental health and chalked the stunt up to an elaborate act of trolling. His subsequent break from the spotlight gave everyone a chance to cool down.

Back then and now, Kanye’s backing of Trump riled so many because it’s the last thing you’d expect from the guy who once declared, on live television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” But that was many years and several iterations of Kanye’s persona ago. How do you keep things fresh when you’re 40 and have trafficked in shock tactics for more than a decade? You switch things up.

Kanye knows this. Whether he’s now tweaking perceptions or playing with reality or really believes his red hat is making America great again is beside the point. He’s causing ripples, which is the same thing he has always done, which is the thing he needs to do in order to be Kanye West. When you play the game at as high a level as he’s been playing it, you have to constantly raise the bar, and that’s what we’re currently seeing.

Kanye has a slew of music projects releasing in the next two months. How that music will be received will provide the ultimate test to his latest tactics. Will fans back off? Will they buy tickets to his concerts? And what will Kanye have to do next time around to top himself? Those questions will be answered in time. But he has ensured that he won’t be ignored. Attention is attention, and right now Kanye West has ours.

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