What Kanye Can Learn From Taylor Swift

Kanye West and Taylor Swift were not destined to hate each other. It happened on accident.

When Kanye hopped onstage at the 2009 Video Music Awards, he didn’t go up there because he disliked Swift. He snatched the mic away from that virginal pop superstar because he thought his friend, Beyonce, should have won the “Best Female Video Award.”

To be fair, Kanye has a point. “You Belong with Me” is a cliche, safe, and unrealistic fantasy. We’re supposed believe that Taylor Swift, a radiant goddess, is this undesirable geek that the cool boy at school doesn’t notice because he’s too busy with the popular girls.

Let’s be real, Taylor Swift has never struggled to pull any dude. The video is emotional pandering to love-sick teenagers.

On the other hand,  Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is, as Kanye put it, “one of the best videos of all time.” Beyonce sang an empowering ballad about feminine independence, and choreographed a legendary routine. Everybody knows how to do the looking-at-the-ringless-hand dance.

article-1213280-066B8CCA000005DC-109_468x314

So, imagine you’re Kanye. You’re looking exceptionally fresh in your new haircut and leather shirt. Your date is Amber Rose and you’ve been drinking a little. Then, one of your friends is robbed of an award you feel she deserves. Outraged, you hop onstage, and say something regrettable.

Everybody is dumb when they’re drunk, Kanye was just dumb on national television. It was a bad idea, but his intent wasn’t to hurt feelings. He just wanted to ride for Beyonce, and choose the worst possible way of going about that.

But, we overreacted. It was a VMA. All awards are mostly meaningless, but the VMAs may be the most meaningless. It’s not like he snatched a Nobel Peace Prize out of Taylor’s hand and said Vladimir Putin should have won.

So, it was about time that Swift and West moved past their insignificant beef. Last week, following their chumminess at the Grammys, they went out to dinner before hitting the recording studio. By all accounts, it was a lovely outing that shoveled a few more feet of dirt on their hatchet.

For Kanye, the peace-making move fits his recent strategy. As of late, Kanye has made a strong shift towards making his version of pop music. “Only One” is a ballad so tender that its hard to believe it’s Kanye’s first release after Yeezus. “FourFiveSeconds” is so infectious that we should quarantine anyone with the song stuck in their head.

He’s collaborated with Paul McCartney and Rhianna, two of pop’s biggest stars, but T-Swift is a rare brand of entertainer.

Remember when she was a country singer?

It seems forever ago, but Swift twanged with the best of ’em before she started making bolder choices that put her at the apex of pop. She transcended country into a new style that doesn’t fit in any box.

This is exactly what Kanye is trying to accomplish, but with hip-hop.

Kanye has 7 huge hip-hop albums, that said, he saw what happened to Jay-Z, who stuck around for too long. Hova’s latest work is wack because hip-hop is still a young man’s game.

Kanye does not want his career to gradually extinguish. He wants to pour gasoline on his stardom. His dabbling in pop shows he wants to be bigger than hip-hop. Heck, his fashion foray shows he wants to be bigger than music.

16-kanye-west-adidas.w529.h352.2x

In interviews, Kanye routinely compares himself to Andy Warhol and Steve Jobs, icons that shifted the culture with their mass-marketed products, and we’ve mocked him for this self-conception.

But, who is the defining person of this era?

At the moment, we don’t have a revelatory genius whose work we hang on with baited breath. If Kanye isn’t already in the company of Warhol and Jobs, he may have the best shot among the living to reach that plateau.

But, he’s not there yet. If Kanye wants this immortality, he needs to broaden his audience. And, there’s no riper crop of fans than those devoted to the woman he never did let finish.

Advertisements

Wanna See Kanye West Singing a Hook and Backup Dancing?

Video

Fonsworth Bentley, former assistant to P. Diddy and professional pretty boy, had one shining moment in the music industry. He was the star of a music video that featured Andre 3000 and Kanye West.

“Everybody,” his solitary single, starts out backstage with Andre 3000 delivering a “this is our moment” pep talk. Kanye offers a stuttering complaint in an untraceable accent about leaving his old lady, which prompts a snappy retort by Andre 3000, in only the first of many moments in this video that these two geniuses must wish were never recorded on camera.

A white woman enters, and says “We’re ready for Colors?” which seems to be the name of the band, but the band is baffled! Why they’ve never heard something so outrageous in their entire life!

The white woman tries to clarify, by reading what she sees on the clipboard “C-O-L-O-U-R-S,” prompting the band to blurt in unison, “Cool Outrageous Lovers of Uniquely Raw Style!” in a tone that says, “Duh?! How could you be so square?! We are only the coolest up-and-coming group on the planet with a name that totally does not sound like something a group of forth graders huddled over a porno mag in a treehouse would call themselves!”

Confusion in this video begins with the song title and never ends. The word “everybody” only appears in harmonized form and is barely distinguishable, and furthermore has nothing to do with the song’s content. A more apt title would have been “Don’t Stop” which is basically the thesis of this song and clearly repeated several times. It’s just like, why?

The next bit of confusion comes from Andre 3000 who is inexplicably rocking an eyepatch that does not cover his eye. You know an accessory is a problem when 3 stacks, one of the top ten coolest dudes in human history,  just barely pulls the look off.

Additionally their band looks like this and has two keyboards.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.38.33 PM

Moving on, Kanye actually does a decent job on the hook, it’s catchy, soulful, and within his vocal range, if a bit shallow and simple. In fact, Kanye shines on the track, but his role in this song is comparable to Kevin Durant being used as a corner three shooting role player on a perpetual cellar dweller.

Fonsworth kicks off the rapping and his verse features one of the grossest lines in rap history. And I quote, “I hope you ain’t hungry got mash but no gravy//But we can make some, the best of both juices,” which I take to mean that they are going have sex (mash) and make a gravy with their sexual fluids, which is now burned deep into my brain and has put me on a temporary gravy consumption hiatus. To his credit, Fonzo has some pretty dope moves, intercut with ridiculous close-ups of Andre 3000 who looks like Bill Clinton whilst he was receiving the BJ that nearly got him impeached.  Two sexually vile mental images in a row, you are welcome.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.48.52 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.48.27 PM

Fonzy finishes his verse and the rest of C.O.L.O.U.R.S. joins him in a barbershop quintet formation. Andre 3000 drops a verse that is pretty good for most other rappers, but ranks fairly low in his history of work. For a man who got cold feet as a member of perhaps the greatest rap group of all time, he is startlingly committed to his role in this video. Seriously, how can Andre lay it all out for The Fonz in this heaping pile of garbage, and then sing “Hey Ya” with his back to the crowd at an event whose only parallel in hype would be the second coming of Christ? The man is an unravelable mystery.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.50.03 PM

However, you can barely hear 3000’s verse over the deafening noise of how terrible Kanye is at dancing. It’s tragic. Whereas ‘Ye was able to hide his stiff and disjointed moves while in the background, the transition has placed him front and center, and the results are gruesome.

‘Ye looks like the Kid in High School who tries out for the musical every year, despite his shocking lack of coordination, and is turned down time after time. Then in the final quarter of his senior year, the drama teacher takes pity on him  and casts him in a backup part, knowing full well that she will regret the decision. Then during the performances, despite months of practice, the Kid is still one step behind and moves like he just discovered he had agency over his limbs. That is Kanye in this video. Not the musical God that I would sacrifice an infant lamb for, but a dweeb who gets pushed into lockers.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.04.47 PM

Furthering the madness, Kanye has a dance solo which starts with a shimmy and culminates with a leaping 360. I would love to see what the rejected versions of Kanye’s solo were. How many takes did they do? Did Kanye practice? Were these moves choreographed or improvised? Did they consider using a dancing stunt double? Does Kanye know dancing is not his strong suit? Does he care? Was this solo a part of his contract to do the video?  What were the expressions on the crew members faces during this solo? Did the director just throw up his hands and say “Fuck It! Moving on!” after the thirteenth take? I predict I will spend many a sleepless night pondering these mysteries.

For the outro, the  group launches into a choreographed routine featuring a move that looks like they are spinning in a circle as they are pumping up a bike tire. They exit the stage, after blowing a couple of kisses, leaving us with far more questions than answers, not the least of which is “Why does this exist?”

It is a question I am unequipped to answer, but I’m delighted that enough people signed off on this terrible idea to show us that even the greats blow it sometimes.

The Kanyegasm

Kanye_West_Yeezus_tour_mask_-490x486

Kanye West is my favorite person on the planet and I saw him perform live two days ago.

The opening act was Kendrick, who in his own right is amazing. He performed with a live band, brought out E-40 (who is a humongous human being), and did everything you expect from a big time rap act. He played his bangers with the energy of a hungry honey badger, but the highlight of his performance was the restrained, heartbreaking, and beautiful “Sing about Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” He delievered a chilling performance that featured Kendrick taking the bullets that kill the first verse. To close, he rapped a cappella channelling Bob Dylan reciting a poem. It was beautiful, and the perfect appetizer for the feast to follow.

A Kanye West performance is nothing short of high art. The minimalist, yet captivating stage contained a 3 story tall mountain, a massive HD jumbotron, a jutting thrust stage in the shape of an arrowhead that raised, lowered, and bounced, and a walkway connecting everything that was lit from below by L.E.D. lights that gave Kanye a spectral aura every time he crossed it. His dancers wore nude leotards and flesh colored masks that obscured their appearances. However these dancers were not the standard fare for rap shows, they were all well trained modern dancers who were constantly creating intriguing imagery to compliment Kanye.

Kanye started off with “On Sight” his aggressive “I’m the fucking greatest” intro to his album. Kanye, who is actually sorta jacked in real life, stormed onto the stage and demanded the audience’s attention with his intensity. He wore an African-inspired mask giving him a tribal and divine presence. But just as on the song, Kanye cut everything a minute in and dropped his mantra sample for the album, which goes “Oh He gives us what we need, may not be what we want.” Only he repeated it several times, rotating each time it concluded saluting the audience like Maximus. From that point on, Kanye was in complete control and we became devoted followers worshiping at the grand altar of Yeezus.

Kanye walked us through his whole personal life. We followed the saga of the man who lost his mother and fiancee and spiraled into an abusive relationship with substances and groupies, only to emerge as the biggest rockstar on the planet with a damn fine fiancee.

It’s nearly impossible to choose highlights of the show because of it’s overall excellence, but I will try.

Right before Kanye was about to rap “I Am A God,” after getting everyone worked into a frenzy with “Black Skinhead,” he climbed to the top of the mountain. Then a spotlight hit him seconds before the verse. HUGE MISTAKE ‘YE WANTED NO PART OF THAT SPOT. He shouted, “NO SPOT,” then completely unflustered dropped the verse with a teeth gnashing energy. The best part is Kanye was right, the spot killed the entire mood he had created with the rest of set.  It stands out to me because Kanye is so involved with his brand, that even in the middle of a performance with thousands of people looking right at him, he had the presence of mind and coolness of demeanor to tell that light guy to turn off his damn spot. Legendary.

Next, I had no idea how sad that “I’m in It” is. I always thought it was just a song about his conquests, but in reality it is about the emptiness that he felt after he broke up with his ex-fiancee as he was caught in a cycle of being in meaningless sexual relationships and becoming lonely, then running right back to those relationships because of the loneliness they created. A cycle that he partially enjoyed, yet tormented him. ‘I’m in it and I can’t get out her” isn’t about how awesome he is at banging groupies, it’s a call for help to get him out of this vicious cycle. He ended the song with the faceless dancers encircling him in erotic poses with him writhing on the ground in the middle alone, a striking and tragic image.

He wore a variety of masks throughout the performance and during “Stronger,” he wore a disco ball mask that reflected FREAKING LAZERS INTO THE CROWD.

“Blood on the Leaves” was a thundering, angsty masterpiece that featured a massive explosion that engulfed the mountain.

“Hey, Mama” was preluded by a personal confession of how difficult of a time he was having after his mother died.

“Through the Wire” was unbelievably triumphant with more power added to the lyrics and beat than I’d ever felt from the iconic recorded version.

He played “Runaway” live on keyboard and used a drum pad to command when and how he played the “Look Atcha” sample of that song. It was mesmerizing.

He brought out Jesus, who he referred to as “White Jesus” and after Jesus gave Kanye a brief lesson and left ‘Ye alone onstage. Kanye took a brief pause and dropped “Jesus Walks”

He closed on “Bound 2” that featured live piano and changed the lyric “have you ever asked your bitch for other bitches” to “I love you baby, I don’t need no other bitches” which I mean let’s be real, is adorable, especially considering he just proposed to Kim the day before.

Kanye is the greatest and it’s not even close. The performance was a combination of Stadium Rock, Soul Rap, and Fine Art. Everyone was standing from the time he killed the lights to when he walked off stage on his knees looking up at Jesus at the summit of the Mountain.

To end, let us read from the book of Ye, and I quote from the BBC interview, “We culture. Rap the new rock ‘n roll. We the real rockstars, and I’m the biggest of all of them. I’m the number one rockstar on the planet.”

After seeing him perform, this is not false bravado or Kanye being Kanye, it’s gospel. What do you want him to say?

“Oh golly thanks for all the praise, but I’m just trying to do my best to put on a good show. I’m humbled by this whole experience, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my fans”

It simply would not be true. Kanye is telling it the way it is. It’s hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a Jumbotron, because if you make it on a Jumbotron, it means you’re doing pretty well.

Kanye is by far the biggest rockstar on the planet and I’d argue it’s greatest artist, so as far as I’m concerned seeing Kanye live is now mandatory for all citizens of the planet who claim to have good taste and have the opportunity.

You can either love Kanye or be wrong.