The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 07:06
White House

Kanye won’t be president, but that’s not his real aim

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Kanye West is a musical pioneer and creative genius.

Starting out as a talented producer making beats for Jay Z’s album The Blueprint, he transitioned to rapping and performing in the early 2000s to critical acclaim. He popularised the style of autotune R&B initially used by T-Pain and changed his sound up with each following release in an attempt to stay relevant.

In 2016, on Facts, a track from his solo album The Life of Pablo, he famously rapped: ‘2020, imma (sic) run the whole election’. Now, in 2020, four months away from the presidential election on November 3rd, he released a tweet reaffirming his intention to seek the office of the presidency. As of writing, it has over 1 million likes.

Kanye West models himself on being a provocateur and a contrarian, eager to be on the cutting edge of music, fashion and popular culture. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any self-confidence issues either, proclaiming in the past that ‘my greatest pain in life is that I’ll never be able to see myself perform live’, and famously naming a track of his 2013 album Yeezus  ‘I am a God’. Whilst some have used Kanye’s inflated ego as evidence that he harbours lofty political ambitions, in my opinion, Kanye is not serious about running a competitive campaign for the presidency, and is simply using his platform to gain attention in order to boost his streaming numbers and garner buzz around his upcoming album. West has left it too late to appear on the ballot in six states in November, and you would think that if he was serious about making a name in politics he would have realised this and announced his intentions much sooner.

To think that this is any more than a publicity stunt is naïve. Various commentators have begun speculating that perhaps Kanye was encouraged by the Trump campaign in order to split the black vote, even though there is currently zero factual evidence that this is the case. They completely miss the point. It seems there is no Machiavellian scheme from the Trump campaign, but simply Kanye West being Kanye West. When you look more closely at Kanye’s history of outlandish behaviour and the timing of his actions it becomes clear that being controversial is an overt strategy in order to get the press talking about him. In 2016, Kanye West caused controversy when he stated on a single from his forthcoming record The Life of Pablo that he made Taylor Swift famous. In 2018, West became more outspoken about his support for President Trump and in the same year proclaimed on a TMZ interview that he believed the slavery of African Americans over centuries may have been a ‘choice’. He released a solo album in the same year, as well as a collaborative album, Kids See Ghosts, with frequent collaborator Kid Cudi. A pattern seems to be emerging here.

Whether people like it or not, Kanye West is a genius. Not a political genius, but a marketing genius who understands what to say in order to get people talking about him and give him publicity. It is a clever strategy. How many of you were listening to Kanye or were aware of him before his outbursts? How many of you are more likely to check out his upcoming album God’s Country following his recent scandals? It pays to be provocative.

When it comes to Kanye’s personal politics, the man is all over the place. He explicitly expressed his support for Trump but likes him because of his outsider status rather than because he aligns with him ideologically – although has expressed views on abortion and homosexuality akin to those of Trump. In an interview, West has said that he ‘is a non-conformist’ and favours ‘a Trump campaign with Bernie Sanders principles’, showing that his political beliefs are unconventional and sometimes contradictory.

Kanye’s announcement that he is planning to run for president does raise a deeper and more important question about celebrity culture and politics though. Why is it that people with no political background or experience are able to play politics like it is a hobby whilst advocating little in terms of actual policy proposals? Politics may seem like a game, but do they not know that decisions politicians make actually affect peoples’ lives? Instead of encouraging celebrities with little practical experience to run for elected office, we should be encouraging those who actually understand community issues to run. Whether they are teachers, volunteers or nurses, these people will be more informed and passionate about the issues as they have experienced them first hand. They will not be doing it simply for exposure or to boost their social media engagements, but because they care about the issues and want to improve the country for the better.

Celebrities can get involved in politics, but simply thinking you can run for the highest office in the country without being actively engaged in politics before you run is short-sighted and naïve. Reagan was governor of California before running for president. He knew that the world of politics was complex and difficult to master, and so during his time as governor prepared himself by getting some practical experience. You can be an outsider candidate, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump, but you need to have an understanding of how political institutions operate to get any substantial measures passed. To think you can succeed on name recognition alone is foolish.

Ultimately, we should be wary of who we encourage to run. On Last Week Tonight in 2013, John Oliver mocked Trump and encouraged him to seek the Republican nomination, thinking it would be comical. Look where goading him ended up. People should stop treating politics and elections as a spectator sport, as decisions made by politicians have consequences. We should learn from our past mistakes and be more careful when choosing which horse to back in the race for the White House.

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