Is Kanye’s burst of recent behaviour his usual attention-seeking - or is there something more substantial going on?
There can’t be anyone - with or without an interest in popular culture - that hasn’t been made aware of Kanye West’s recent comeback to the public eye.
He began by returning to Twitter to release a self-help/philosophy book in 280-character chunks, then indulged in a Twitter love-in with Donald Trump, posted photos of his eerie ‘tomb-like’ home, declared that he would use a photo of the man who performed his late mother’s final surgery and who he blames for her death for his album cover, conducted a two-hour interview with Charlamagne Tha God where he revealed that he was addicted to opioids after having liposuction and then - by far the most shocking interjection of them all - declared on TMZ that 400 years of slavery sounded ‘like a choice’.
Most people, us included, have simply mused that this is classic Kanye, just saying whatever is needed to drum up awareness and, in a Trumpian era, employing the Trumpian tactics of saying the ‘unsayable’ simply to get attention and the oxygen of free publicity.
However, Spencer Wolff thinks there could be something bigger behind all of these recent actions.
In a Twitter thread, he went through his theory was Kanye “is currently in the middle of a performance art piece inspired by Andy Kaufman” and that we’ve all been missing the signals, since “he and his collaborators have been dropping hints for weeks”.
Speaking to Pigeons and Planes, he makes clear that “I would like to note that I am in no way trying to defend Kanye, his actions, or his statements. Even if this theory is correct, his words and actions have already been destructive and this doesn’t excuse him of any wrongdoing. I’m only offering a theory that I think could provide context to some of his recent behavior.”
Now we’ve got that cleared up, let’s begin:
Speaking further to Pigeons and Planes, Wolff explains:
I believe Kanye’s pledge is his career up until this point. He has consistently taken left-leaning, progressive political stances, including his famous remark that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Kanye’s turn—making the ordinary thing something extraordinary—has been his complete reversal of ideals and decision to align himself with prominent figures from far right conservatism. Will his album be his prestige and reveal the trick?
Is Kanye West, with the help of Tremaine Emory and others, is attempting to pull off an updated version of Joseph Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me? Could he be borrowing from Hammons and attempting to turn a symbol which is perceived to be racist or hateful into his own, with a new meaning?
What exactly is he trying to accomplish with this performance art piece? I don’t know. And I’m not sure we’re supposed to know. At least not yet. Maybe it’s a conversation about the perceived stigma of mental health in our country. Maybe it’s a conversation about how the media and public treat celebrities. Maybe it’s a conversation about race relations or what it means to be black in American politics. Maybe he’s just trying to hold a mirror up to the world and force us to examine where we are as a society.
Or there’s the possibility that he’s completely lost it and the only one being trolled is me. But it’s not like we haven’t seen this happen before. A lot of people thought Joaquin Phoenix had lost his mind when he supposedly quit acting and became a rapper. Remember that bizarre Letterman interview? Turns out it was all performance art for the movie, I’m Still Here, which was written and produced by Phoenix and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck.
Convinced? Or is this reading too much into West simply indulging in classic behaviour and just upping the ante in this time when the only way to stand out is to be truly shocking?
Time will tell.