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.
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.
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.