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Love him or hate him, at the very least you definitely know who Kanye West is. He’s enigmatic, unpredictable, yet somehow still a salient figure in popular culture. There are those who would argue he’s insane, and others who claim he’s a true artistic genius. Though it may be impossible to definitively prove either, it’s worth asking: What the fuck is the deal with Kanye? And, perhaps more importantly, what does his particular brand of celebrity say about our society as a whole?
West has been making headlines for his outspoken persona ever since he stepped into the spotlight; who could forget West’s notorious comments during a celebrity run Red Cross donation PSA for Hurricane Katrina?
On live television, standing beside a bewildered looking Mike Meyers, West looked straight into the camera and delivered in the soberest of tones a statement which would echo through America for years to come: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
This marked the beginning of West’s capricious public persona as we know it.
Other demonstrably political moments have peppered his career, one of which transpired onstage at the VMA’s (a popular event for West to stir the pot at). In 2015, West was awarded the Video Vanguard Award, which was presented to him by Taylor Swift–the very artist he’d snubbed six years earlier by interrupting her to argue that the recognition she received should have gone to Beyoncé.
In this speech, he embarked on a baffling and mind-numbing rant ostensibly about artistic integrity and teaching children to believe in themselves. It ended with the line, “As you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
But West’s outspokenness doesn’t always attempt to address larger societal issues; he’s also known for his absolutely overblown sense of self, having made statements comparing himself to Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, and Michael Jordan.
Oh, and to top it all off, he has consistently and insistently compared himself to none other than Jesus himself.
On his sophomore album, released in 2005 and entitled “Late Registration,” West touched largely on themes of family and oppression.
His ego was still present, of course, but so too were sentiments of graciousness and humility; of giving back to those who have helped him along the way. One of the most touching songs, “Hey Mama,” features West pledging to reciprocate the love and care that his mother always showed him. A line from the song goes, “I said mommy I’mma love you till you don’t hurt no more/ And when I’m older, you ain’t gotta work no more/ And I’mma get you that mansion that we couldn’t afford.”
Fast-forward to his newest effort, “The Life Of Pablo,” an album which has brought his erratic behavior back into the forefront of the media (not that it ever really left).
In “The Life Of Pablo,” the tables turn. It’s as if West believes that nobody has assisted him in his success, and rather he is solely responsible for not only his accomplishments, but those of others. A lyric from a controversial stanza in the song “Famous,” which has garnered quite a bit of press, goes “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.”
These ever-changing attitudes and ongoing, dramatic, public displays have led to speculation about an unsubstantiated theory in regards to Kanye’s antics. Many believe that Mr. West isn’t just a wacky celebrity, but that he’s in fact a real head case, and in need of psychiatric treatment.
There are quite a few think pieces floating around the internet suggesting that West is pathological: demonstrating narcissistic behavior, or Histrionic Personality disorder.
Malik Yusef, a writer and producer who has worked closely with Kanye West throughout his career, and especially on “Life Of Pablo,” was quoted as saying that he admired Kanye for refusing to take medication that he’d been prescribed. When pressed on what particular pills West was shirting, Yusef replied, “Whatever they prescribe you for like bipolar or schizophrenia or whatever they diagnosed him as.”
Perhaps unwittingly, Kanye himself corroborated Yusef’s claims; he was quoted as claiming that, at yet another VMA moment, where West nearly interrupted Beck, another recipient of an award, that, “The voices in my head told me to go…”
If Kanye truly is suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, does our constant fanaticism over Kanye’s episodes implicate each and every one of us in the public unravelling of a human being?
Do we enable his disorder?
Let’s play a game. In this exercise, imagine that Kanye West is just that wild friend of yours. Sometimes he goes too far, gets too drunk at parties, says things that leave you questioning his mental stability, or makes claims about his own prowess that are deeply out of touch with reality.
Would you pull him aside and tell him that you think he needs help? Or would you gossip with your other cohorts about how worried you are about him, but sit back and allow the shenanigans to continue because they’re entertaining?
Personally, I’m not sure the answer is so simple. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between harmless behavior, and that which could be damaging to the individual and those around them.
We don’t know for sure if Kanye is a maniac or a maverick. Personally, I think he just might be an amalgam of the two, and furthermore, a mirror held up to us all. Our obsession with celebrity is a beast, stuffed full with dishonesty and voyeurism which verges on schadenfreude. Kanye West might just be the perfect figure to feed our wants: he’s self-congratulatory–perhaps even delusional–yet he still manages to deliver some damn catchy songs. He’s the millennial’s celebrity, and he’s here to stay.