The struggle of forgetting an artist
Once, Kanye was an immensely positive force in our culture. My first exposure to the struggles of poverty didn’t come from school or New York Times op-eds; it came from “We Don’t Care.” While my teachers told me that drug dealers were bad people, Kanye told me that “this dope money here is lil’ Trey’s scholarship.”
As a rebellious teen, I idolized figures who bucked against establishment norms, and no one else could do that quite like Kanye. Who else would have the gall to off-script on live television to say that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people?” His contrarian nature was, in part, why we were his fans, we just didn’t know how far it would go.
There are many good-faith debates to be had over cancel culture: when is someone hated for something taken out of context? When should someone be treated with more forgiveness? When did somebody act poorly not because they’re a bad person, but because of the norms of their time? The actions of Ye, however, fall far outside the purview of such debates. He has repeatedly espoused hatred and praised Hitler. He should be ostracized.
For fans of West, we gave him the benefit of the doubt for as long as we possibly could – against the concerns of our more liberal or Taylor Swift-loving friends. He needs help. He’s going through a rough time. Every genius has sparks of madness. Now, those excuses feel hollow, and we feel stupid.
Unfortunately, we can’t separate the art from the artist here; Ye still gets royalties from every Spotify stream. That money supports a presidential campaign that, given all the available evidence, is only going to get worse. His anti-Semitic rhetoric undoubtedly leads to more hate crimes against Jews (which, are already trending at record highs.) Ye has gone from cringey and embarrassing to dangerous.
Spotify just released Spotify Wrapped – an annual summary of every user’s listening habits. Embarrassingly, Kanye barely skidded his way into my top five artists of the year. Luckily, I was not alone. Despite our best efforts, most of my friends – Jews and non-Jews alike – could not purge Ye’s music completely: it’s just too damn good. Why must the Lord make sin so tempting?
Parasocial attachments form when a media persona “becomes a source of comfort, felt security, and safe haven.” They are functionally similar to regular attachments and come with the same feelings of grief when severed. Everywhere, young adults are mourning their connection to an artist they once loved. It’s the process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance playing out in mass. It’s the death of somebody we knew – or, at least thought we did.
A week ago, I made a tweet: “If Kanye makes an apology album, the Jewish community would forgive him.” It was a joke, and like most of my jokes on Twitter, it received zero likes. But, it came from a genuine part of my psyche. Like somebody who just broke up with an abusive partner, I hold out hope that Kanye will do something spectacular to redeem himself and start using his influence for good.
But, my more rational half knows how Ye will continue acting: “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny // And what I do? Act more stupidly.”