Kanye West is the headline performer at the closing of the Pan Am games tonight. He’s a controversial choice. Before his appearance at this year’s RBC Ottawa Bluesfest and England’s Glastonbury Festival there was also a fair amount of controversy over his upcoming performances. People seemed evenly divided into two camps, either loving of hating the man and his music.
I give the man credit, he’s very good at what he does. Bluesfest was packed, more than 25,000 people came out to see him. It is just too bad he doesn’t work a little harder at his craft instead of taking the easy way out.
Before Kanye hit the stage I took in Hawksley Workman’s performance. Because of a bad music mix I had difficulty hearing his lyrics. I wish I had had that problem with Mr. West. Not that many years ago Kanye would have been arrested for his lyrics and his between song patter. He very proudly proclaimed at one point “there is only one Kanye West.” I am very thankful for that. (Actually that is not an exact quote – but I won’t use the words he used to describe himself, I have too much respect for you. And for Kanye’s mother)
I won’t comment on the music. It seems you either like hip hop or you don’t. But the show did get me to thinking about the changes in our society over the past few decades and the rejection of what were once commonly held values. Using profanity in a song or on stage may have been shocking once, but now that it has become common it is just boring. People who use what was once profanity as their noun, verb, adjective and adverb of choice just display the paucity of their vocabulary. (As for blasphemy, God can deal with that as he sees fit – but it too is no longer shocking.)
I have no problems with Kanye’s language choice though, as far as the words themselves go. They are just words after all. Those who follow him though are in need of a reality check. At Bluesfest he was in fine form as someone standing up to society, warning his audience to beware of “The Machine.” Maybe he was being ironic, though listening to him I am not sure he would understand the word. At a music festival, with fans paying $70 to see him, for which he received a six-figure payment (he charges about $500,000 for a performance), Kanye West is the machine. The man is no rebel – he is a beneficiary of the system he rails against. He may be making a fortune – but he is cooperating with “The Machine” which I am certain makes more from his performances than he does.
I think Kanye West probably is so boastful about his talent because he knows that he can’t live up to the rhetoric. Fifty years from now he will probably be a footnote to music history; his accomplishments won’t merit anything longer. After all, to a large section of the population he is a complete unknown. To those non music fans who have heard of him, Kanye is best known for being married to a woman who herself is known primarily for a sex tape she made with a man from a previous relationship.
The man has talent, but too often the bluster overshadows it. When the music becomes secondary to the spectacle the art suffers.
That Kanye West is a superstar entertainer is a sad reflection on the state of our society. That he is the best they could find to close the Pan Am Games is a reflection of who we ae. Maybe we should be trying harder.