At last night’s Grammy awards, Kanye West proved something to everyone watching at home which, frankly, we all should have known anyway: He is right about everything all the time. But look, here’s the thing: Just as we can rely on Kanye to speak the truth on any number of very important topics—from George W. Bush’s failure to care about black people to Taylor Swift being good, but critically overrated—we can also rely on the fact that when some people hear those truths, they’ll speak out against Kanye for being a “jackass” and for “ranting.” And while on the one hand we can—and do—dismiss Kanye-naysayers as being short-sighted and on the wrong side of history, on the other hand, we think it’s worth taking a closer look at everything Kanye did and said at last night’s Grammy’s, just so we can take comfort in the fact that we are living in the time of Kanye.
First things first: Before the awards show even started, Kanye was speaking the truth on the red carpet, and putting Ryan Seacrest’s negging self in its place, which, by the way, is as nothing more than an accessory at these awards shows. Seacrest is no star. Anyway, Seacrest—who is one of the executive producer’s of Kim Kardashian’s various reality shows on E!—was talking with West and Kardashian about the various creative and business ventures with which West is involved, and said, “Attention deficit disorder is a good thing,” thus suggesting that West has a, let’s say, unfocused and unsettled mind. Ha ha? What a cool thing to suggest, Ryan Seacrest! That a man with undeniable talent and manifold interests has a mental disorder enabling him to get so much done. West’s straight-faced response was quick and perfect— “It’s also just called… thinking” —and his contempt for Seacrest was rightfully palpable, though West made it more comfortable for all present with a shrug at the end.
And then there were West’s actions during the show itself. Many people had predicted that Beyoncé was a shoe-in to win Album of the Year, but some joked that if she didn’t, Kanye would reprise his role as music awards show-disruptor extraordinaire. And, in fact, when Beck surprised everyone by winning the Album of the Year award for Morning Phase, Kanye did pop up on stage, though he quickly sat back down without saying anything. Everyone laughed, and that was that, right? Wrong!
After the awards show, Kanye sat down with E!’s post-show hosts and said:
[T]he Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We aren’t going to play with them no more. ‘Flawless.’ Beyoncé’s video. And Beck needs to respect artistry, he should have given his award to Beyoncé. At this point, we tired of it. What happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. We, as musicians, have to inspire people who go to work every day, and they listen to that Beyoncé album, and they feel like it takes them to a different place. And then they do this promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want commercial advertising. We aren’t playing with them anymore. And by the way, I got my wife, my daughter, and I got my clothing line, so I’m not going to do nothing that would put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s why I didn’t say anything tonight, but you all knew what it meant when ‘Ye stepped on that stage.
Now, of course, Kanye is already being criticized for being that “jackass” again, and for going on another “rant.” But this type of dismissal contains no small undercurrent of racism (there’s no shortage of people who are now using the word “ranting,” when in the past they would have used “uppity”), it also denies the simple fact that Kanye is speaking the truth. To pretend that Beck’s album (which, I’m a fan of!) had anywhere near the impact that Beyoncé’s did in the culture at large is absurd. And for anyone who wants to have an argument and pretend that the Grammys are awarded based on pure artistry, may I remind you that Iggy Azalea was the early favorite to win for Rap Album of the Year? (She didn’t win, but she was nominated? What.) It was Beyoncé’s album that made the biggest impact post-release, that spawned new cultural signifiers (what’s up surfbort), and that still has a ton of relevance more than a year after it was released. Plus, it’s worth noting that Beck also thought Beyoncé should win for Album of the Year, saying: “Even in a hundred years, I could never do what Beyoncé or Pharrell [do] … I don’t put it over what they did.”
At the end of the day, maybe it’s true that these awards don’t really matter. Beyoncé will still be Beyoncé, and no amount of Grammys (she did win a few others last night) will change that. But, of course, as Kanye knows, it’s not about the awards qua awards. These shows are representative of a certain type of industry success, and the idea that Beyoncé could be denied that stamp of approval is mind-boggling considering the things she’s accomplished. And for all the people who are inspired by both the album and Beyoncé herself, a loss like this signifies a lack of respect from the higher-ups, one which might not “mean” anything when it comes to record sales, but does indeed mean something when it comes to people believing that their choices matter. And so it’s important that Kanye speak some truth about this issue—not many other people do. And when people have talked about how “this world is bullshit,” they also got condemned for being disruptors. Because this world is bullshit. And it’s important for Kanye to call that out. Because who knows? Maybe someday people will listen.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen