It Doesn't Matter if Kanye is a Republican
If you haven’t been on Twitter in the past week, let me fill you in on something we learned that apparently has shattered the world of millions: Kanye West is… a Republican. Or maybe he isn’t because he didn’t actually vote. But he definitely supports Trump. Or maybe not because he tweeted that he doesn’t support everything he does. But he totally likes Trump, he said they’re brothers. Wait, what? What the hell does that even mean? I cannot give The College Dropout another listen until I know what that 26 year old thinks now, 14 years later, after achieving international fame. Or, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter who somebody voted for, or even supports or just likes, to enjoy their art. Actually, did I say maybe? Because it definitely doesn’t matter.
I will try to give people a break for being so up in arms on this one because it’s specifically Kanye West, the guy who said Republican president George Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” But this is also the same Kanye West who has said an encyclopedia’s worth of crazy thing over the years. And also, how could Kanye not like Trump? They really are brothers, as Kanye said. Two men who are known around the world for being rich, arrogant and powerful. Two men who are always saying ridiculous things that their supporters just kind of shrug off. Two men with so many devoted followers that they can do anything and never be turned away by all of them. But even with all of these reasons, Kanye’s political opinions don’t matter. No celebrity's political stance really has any impact independent of their art. It’s not like Kanye was dropping bars about lowering the corporate tax rate and securing America’s border on Yeezus.
One prime example of the absence of politics having no effect on art is The Grateful Dead. In so many people’s minds, the Dead represent the antithesis of the hippie counterculture. But the Dead were actually entirely apolitical. They didn’t write protest songs and they didn’t play at anti-war rallies. They didn’t support the war and they didn’t ignore the reality of it, they just didn’t go anywhere near politics and risk tainting their music because, ultimately, the music was their focus. The Dead actually wrote a very patriotic song “U.S. Blues” which talks about how much they love this country, despite having their fans locked up all over it. But “U.S. Blues” somehow still never gets played on the Fourth of July and is snubbed for Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” which is actually critical of America, but because Springsteen has the perceived politics of being a good, all-American act.
Then, on the other end of the politics-and-music spectrum, there is Ted Nugent. The Motor City Madman is less of a musician and more of a walking RNC/NRA advertisement. His “art” is entirely inseparable from his politics because his music is directly influenced by his political views. And over the years Sweaty Teddy has only drifted further to the right because he knows that is the only way he can stay relevant, but as crazy as he is, I still can't resist blasting the intro to "Stranglehold." An objectively great guitar riff transcends politics.
The point here is similar to the one I made in my piece, “Separating Art from the Fallen Artist” and that point is that, as long as it doesn’t interfere or intersect with the person’s art, celebrities’ personal lives and opinions don’t really matter. Whether they be serial abusers or, God forbid, even Republicans, as long as the image conveyed in their art is not at odds with them outside the studio. Cosby’s conviction last week of sexual assault, and all the accusations before the eventual conviction, showed us that he is not America’s Dad like he tried to tell us through his art. And if Kanye starts rapping about how he’s sympathetic to the plight of American farmers (who are losing millions due to Trump’s trade war with China) or mass incarceration and systematic abuse of black people (only being furthered by Jeff Sessions’ renewed war on drugs and Trump telling cops not to be “too nice” to suspects) then he loses all credibility.
I am not one of those people who thinks that celebrities shouldn’t voice their political opinions just because they disagree with mine. Artists can have opinions, and more power to them if they use their voice and platform of fame to promote important issues. But in the end, it’s just one vote. And Kanye didn’t even vote in the election, and I doubt he’s going to be holding Trump rallies in Chicago anytime soon. So at least on the Kanye front, this is probably more a publicity stunt (from a man who really is in no need of publicity but who craves it nonetheless) than an actual political statement. What much of the Kanye controversy has come down to is Kanye doing what he does best: completely distorting whatever view we had of him. First he was a troubled college dropout and we connected with him, especially when his mother died. But then he showed that he didn’t need our sympathy as he shot to stratospheric heights in the worlds of hip-hop, music production and fashion. And now that we think we have him figured out, he has to go out and reinvent himself and further confuse the world. It’s a method of celebrity that may induce whiplash for him, but has proven to work pretty well for Bob Dylan. The point here is that Kanye is not a Republican, he’s just tired of Kim getting more retweets than him.