Echoing her dancing to Kanye West’s ‘All Day’ performance at the Brits, Taylor Swift was seen rapping to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Superbass’ at the 2022 MTV Awards, an event which has a history for Swift and West as the moment when the latter interrupted the former, leading to ensuing drama and some of the greatest music ever written — arguably, ultimately, by both artists, though first by the elder on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On that record, which crowned Mr. West as king of hip hop, Kanye mourned the passing of the king of pop, Michael Jackson. As Nicki Minaj won the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award tonight, recalling the greats of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, she called for more focus on mental health, in a pop era dominated by imitators of the psychoanalytic pop of Billie Eilish, and on a night dominated (so far) by Lizzo and her empowering ‘About Damn Time’.
Kane Brown’s hip hop/country proto-synthesis is promising, yet ultimately underwhelming, and reaffirming of Usher’s claim to be the king of R&B and the last of his kind. Maneskin are doing their own thing. And Annita is running for the crown that Camila Cabello once claimed, but is unlikely to surpass the ‘Havana’ glass ceiling — in a way that is strikingly similar for Blackpink and BTS, whose global near-hegemony masks the ongoing dominance of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ in the collective unconscious. It will take some time for Latin music and K-Pop to break free from the shackles of pre-artistic commercial pop, although Rosalía, Lisa, and Rosé are doing an admirable job in remedying that, while Stromae paves startling new ground in European pop.
Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar and Drake continue to dominate hip hop, while Eminem’s Snoop Dogg collaboration reflects the return of ’90s hip hop to dominate our post-Kanye musical moment. Jack Harlow’s Drake imitation act is inverted in the UK by 50 Cent-inspired Aitch, while Harlow’s First Class sampling Fergie’s ‘Glamorous’ further reaffirms our transportation to a world before (and, paradoxically, after) Kanye. But to get beyond Kanye, we cannot avoid him: we must confront his greatness, recognise it, and (most importantly) surpass it. Instead, we are under-recognising Kanye, failing to confront his greatness, and falling short of the dizzying artistic heights he reached. A similar story might be told of the music of Michael Jackson, whose Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time.
The pop throne is empty, forfeited by Kanye West at the height of his popularity at the 2009 MTV Awards, and vacated by Michael Jackson on the occasion of his passing, but the contenders are legion. Billie Eilish’s winning the four most-craved Grammies — Best New Artist, Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year — preceded her greatest album Happier Than Ever being snubbed earlier this year. The thrones of pop and hip hop are well and truly empty. We are haunted by the ghosts of the past, who surround the silver throne of popular music. The throne is empty. Who will rise to the moment? It is about time.
P.S. Perhaps the most remarkable moment is when Nicki Minaj cites Taylor Swift as making a significant contribution to promoting the hit Superbass, along with Black Eyed Peas members will.i.am and Fergie. This is very interesting. Thanks Nicki. Musically, artistically, technically: You earned tonight. See you next year.
See, the throne is mine for the taking. Wait up, music industry. I’m coming for the crown. And I don’t even need to run. No, wait: I’ve already won. The throne is mine. It is done. Gone.