Kanye West is an astonishing individual. Endlessly maligned by media outlets throughout his career, Mr. West’s pivot from music to fashion has subverted expectations about his artistry and creativity in general. ‘He clearly thinks out of the box’, the Fox News interviewer said after the interview. For those who have not heard My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the truth of Kanye West’s genius is always a startling revelation, since it is Kanye’s political gaffs that he tends to be best known for. Kanye West can’t do politics — but he can do almost anything else. I wonder why.
But he can do politics. This is a political move. Remember — Kanye alienated Red states by calling out George Bush in the late 2000s following Hurricane Katrina, prior to his alienating almost all U.S. states after his interruption of Taylor Swift at the MTV Awards. These events led Kanye to the prophetic Fantasy that sent him hurtling into the 2010s, an ill-fated marriage, and a pivot from music to other ventures, commercial and political.
Kanye started a ‘Yeezy’ fashion line which has made him a multibillionaire. And he donned the Trump ‘MAGA’ red cap before himself running against Trump in the 2020 elections — he was too late to meet the ballot for most states.
Clearly, the support for Trump in 2016 alienated Kanye in blue states, just as opposition to Bush alienated him in red states. Kanye is now on Fox News being praised for being ‘an artist — and not just music[ally]’.
Kanye’s critique of abortion has stood one test of political time, as Roe V. Wade is now repealed, to no small degree of controversy and outrage. A rift has opened up in American politics that will take a great deal of responsible conviction to heal. Kanye’s appeal in the Republican Party is potentially very large, though actually quite small. His mass appeal as a candidate for President is diminished. Any political future depends on applying the same intellectual and organisational genius of Dark Twisted Fantasy in music and Yeezy in business to a political campaign that is more than artistry, and draws on technicality and a spirit of balance. Kanye once said he wanted to combine the policy platform of the Bernie campaign with the populist rhetoric of the Trump campaign. (Bernie once received an enthusiastic reception at a Fox News town hall, recall.) Can economic leftism and cultural conservatism go together? If the economic side is moderated by an entrepreneurial ethos, which protects working people rather than overexploiting them, perhaps they can.
The middle way is a republican message of civil rights as economic rights — a central idea to Bernie’s campaign, undermined by the damaging rhetoric of woke liberalism, which Kanye completely disavows, while embracing the universal values of equality, liberty, and fraternity. In a campaign which focuses on identity issues, Kanye can easily respond about his record of championing upcoming artists such as Nicki Minaj and Rihanna early in their star-spangled careers. His rhetorical gaffs are the cost of genius, and reflect a failure in style, not substance. For an artist, Kanye is remarkably philosophical — and that may just be his greatest political strength.
Can he do it? Almost certainly not. Will it be illuminating to see him try? Certainly. Will his attempts, successful or otherwise, go down in history? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.