2018 has been a tough year to be a Kanye West fan, at the risk of sounding obvious. He’s repeatedly doubled down on his support for Donald Trump. He proclaimed that slavery was a choice. He released a mediocre album that was literally finished just before it was released, that began with a song about fantasizing about killing his wife, Kim Kardashian West. His latest official release, the song “XTCY,” is all about how much he wants to fuck his sisters-in-law. These transgressions are all across the board, as far as offensiveness, but individually and together they spell out one thing: Kanye West fandom means actively grappling with his baffling racism and misogyny, a process that’s led many supporters to swear him off altogether.
And yet, Kanye keeps reeling my attention back in with flashes of sincerity and humanity that could only come from an earnest human being, or some sort of sadistic and talented actor. To be clear, I’m not a Kanye West stan, that rabid group of devotees who defend his every move against anyone who dares to be critical. When I reviewed West’s newest album ye unfavorably earlier this year, more than one stan found their way into my mentions to angrily tell me just how much I’ve misunderstood their contemporary Genius. And where his hardcore supporters mostly used to debate his ranking among accepted rap legends, a new demographic has tilted the discourse in an angrier direction. On social media platforms this summer, the MAGA hat and Yeezy-wearing set praised West’s supposed courage to think independently, alongside the flood of very correct criticisms of West’s racist rhetoric and support of white supremacists’ favorite president Donald Trump. Seemingly overnight, West turned into an alt-right schill. Was the College Dropout mascot dancing for Trump University this whole time?
A recent interview made me wonder if West was finally taking the steps to win back his lapsed fans. Speaking to the hosts of the 107.5 WGCI Morning Show in Chicago, West’s face took on the sorrowful concern we saw in 2005, when he told the country that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” He talked about the pressures he was under this year, producing five albums as well as a clothing line, all of which were under the world’s critical eye. He talked about his lack of a support system, how he feels his very public mistakes earlier this summer could have been avoided had he been in the presence of people with his best interests in mind. Most important of all, West apologized for his idiotic comments about slavery. “I’m sorry for the one-two of the MAGA hat into the slavery comment,” he said. “And I’m sorry for people who felt let down by that moment.” Later in the interview, West began to cry.
Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy. Talking about the emotional tie between fans and music artists often lapses into sentimentality, but I’m not sure there’s any non-corny way to talk about a piece of art or artist who really means that much to you. The same sense of lonesomeness and insecurity that underlies every great, grandiose Kanye song (and pretty much everything on 808s and Heartbreak) was on display during the interview. He talked about how his in-laws, the Kardashians and Jenners, have each other to face the tribulations of fame and pressures of production, but after his mother died in 2007, he had to do it all alone. It came off as a genuinely sad moment.
Was this a well-calculated PR stunt? The devising of momager-in-law Kris Jenner? Or was West, back at his hometown radio station and facing pointed questions and passionate concern from radio host Kendra G finally getting rid of the smirking pomp he wore during his controversial interviews with Charlamagne tha God and TMZ? It’s just as easy to be skeptical of his motivations as it is to give in to his pathos and really believe that he is sorry for (and it’s still baffling to type this) claiming our ancestors were subjected to 400 years of the terror, cruelty, and inhumanity of enslavement because that is what they wanted.
If West can eventually see the obvious error of his ways, perhaps he’ll walk back his disgraceful endorsement of Trump.
For all his self-deifying, West is coming up on almost a decade of public apologies. In the past, he’s apologized, for showing disrespect toward Taylor Swift, Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose, and Beck and Bruno Mars, among others. His latest one is not so bad, as public apologies by insufferable famous men go, even if that bar is so low it’s underground. But in this apology, West offers his fans a grain of hope. If he can eventually see the obvious error of his ways, perhaps he’ll walk back his disgraceful endorsement of Trump, or even harder to imagine, his well-documented misogyny. As much as West wants the world to behold him as godlike, he makes periodic efforts to assure us he is learning and growing, something undeniably human.
West understands how to make the emotional appeal. Unfortunately, most of the people who have listened to his music over the years aren’t just bundles of feelings and bottomless empathy wrapped up in hoodies and sneakers. After listening to this latest interview, the one obvious thing that stuck with me (other than the moments of sympathy I felt for this famous millionaire) was his continued insistence on defending Trump. As many of West’s fans see themselves in him, West sees himself in the president, because of their flaws and intemperate personalities. At the same time, he’s taken on the dangerous mission of humanizing Trump above all others.
And that’s really the sticking point: Despite his constant pleas for people to extend unconditional love to others, the only person West has intentionally advocated for people to love are himself, and the man threatening the lives of people all over the world. That’s it. Not a week goes by that West doesn’t have some sort of interaction with the public. He, like his wife and family, lives his life before our eyes. Yet even black culture vulture Kim Kardashian, rubbing elbows with the KKK president of choice, has intentionally advocated for more black people (one) than we’ve ever seen West do since Trump became president. West’s tears were sad, but that’s sadder.
This back and forth journey is something many who used to love Kanye West will have to go through for the rest of his life, should they not just make the theoretically easy but materially difficult decision to stop caring about his music forever. “You’re gonna see a new Ye,” he assured everyone listening. We can hope for him, if we choose, but if the entertainment world that West occupies has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no point in holding your breath for powerful men.