What’s going on with Ye – and why does it matter?
Ye, the entertainer formerly known as Kanye West, directed abusive and inappropriate behavior towards his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and new partner Pete Davidson.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You don’t have to be a pop culture obsessive to know there’s something going on with Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West. Recently divorced from reality TV star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian, just yesterday he was banned from performing at the upcoming Grammy Awards. Prior to that, he was suspended from Instagram for a day after making racist comments towards ‘The Daily Show’ host and upcoming Grammys host Trevor Noah after Noah raised concerns about the conduct of Ye. This conduct includes the relentless trolling of his ex-wife and current boyfriend, comedian Pete Davidson, and the release of a disturbing music video that shows a Claymation figure with a remarkable resemblance to Ye in train. to abduct and horrifically dismember a Claymation figure that bears a remarkable resemblance to Davidson. All of this, Ye claimed in an effort to win back his ex-wife and reunite their family.
You might say, why talk about it? They are celebrities. It’s all part of the show. What does it have to do with someone else? Well, one reason is that all three have a remarkably large cultural footprint. Kardashian has 290 million followers on Instagram, who have watched her throughout her reality TV days and now support her burgeoning makeup and clothing business. Ye has worked with and influenced a generation of artists in music, architecture, video and fashion, not to mention his 30 million Twitter followers. But Ye also has a history of erratic behavior, which he and his family members have openly attributed to mental illness. And Davidson, a “Saturday Night Live” cast member, has earned his own following because of his comedy and also because of his openness about his own mental health issues and his efforts to address them.
What does that mean? All of this is played out in the open, on social media, in artwork and, apparently, in real life. We called Aisha Harris from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour to ask her to help us think about this. Aisha, hello. Thank you very much for taking this.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
MARTIN: So I feel like it’s something that critics, people who write and talk about culture for a living, struggle with. Would that be correct? And I’m not talking here about people capturing people’s worst moments for, you know, just because that’s what they do. I mean people who write seriously about music and art, who normally write about anything an artist of this stature does. So, is my feeling about this correct, that people are struggling with this? And why is that?
HARRIS: Oh, yeah. I mean, where to start? (Laughs) It’s like, like you said before, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are two of the most influential people of the last 20 years. Kanye, obviously, he’s an artist who’s been acclaimed for most of his career, got all the accolades, won Grammys. People love him. He was declared a genius by a number of eminent critics. And then when you have that kind of decline, both in his public persona and also, some would say, his music, there’s this weird conundrum that they face in terms of genre, how do you separate the art from the artist? It’s like that old question, isn’t it?
And then with Kim, it’s as if it was someone who had been criticized. He’s not really someone we consider to have any talent, unless, say, being a businessman or a salesperson is considered a talent. And so she hasn’t always had a lot of public goodwill in terms of how she’s appropriated other cultures, the fact that she’s had a very, some would say, negative impact on beauty standards over the past 15, 20 years. And so it’s hard to feel bad for her, or some would say it would be hard to feel bad for her when all of this is happening. And so those are the kinds of issues and questions that come up when we talk about these two people.
MARTIN: It’s something that Trevor Noah talked about. Let me play a little what he said. It was a nearly 10-minute monologue the other night on his show. I’m just going to play a little.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH”)
TREVOR NOAH: Two things can be true. Kim loves publicity. Kim is also harassed. What she goes through is terrifying to watch, and it highlights what so many women go through when they choose to leave. One of the most powerful women, one of the richest in the world – unable to convince her ex to stop texting her, to stop chasing her.
MARTIN: So two points he made here – one, in any other context other than Hollywood, people would see this as harassment. And he also pointed out that people can look at this and take clues as to what is considered acceptable. What do you think?
HARRIS: Well, I really think it’s true that we can see this pattern of what happens to Kim Kardashian happening to women all the time. And hopefully we can somehow learn the lesson that this is not an isolated case. It’s something that happens to women every day. And, yes, it’s important to pay attention to what happens to Kim Kardashian, but it’s also something that has to reverberate in reality and in the real world for the rest of the women who don’t have those resources and don’t have that power.
MARTIN: So the argument – just looking at this from another perspective, the argument that Ye supporters have made – like, you saw in the comments posted on that disturbing video that we mentioned more early for this single, “Eazy” – is that it’s art. And therefore, it’s all performance art, and therefore, it’s forbidden to criticize in anything other than artistic terms. Now that’s something that – here’s Trevor Noah again from that monologue. He talked about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH”)
NOAH: I understand that art can be therapy, but I also understand that therapy can be therapy. And what’s weird about the situation is that Kanye West told us he had mental health issues. So I understand. You want to have art as therapy. But here’s the weird thing that Kanye doesn’t understand is, like, what we’re seeing, it makes you uncomfortable. With Kanye, you don’t know how to feel. We don’t know how to worry. And I think Kanye doesn’t seem to understand that he’s letting me create my art. Yeah, but, Kanye, you told us you were in trouble. Now when we worry about it, you say we shouldn’t worry because it’s not a problem. Or it’s problems. Which is it?
MARTIN: You know, he said a lot of things there — so engaging both Kanye’s question revealed and others close to him revealed he had mental health issues, but other people have mental health issues and don’t bully people, right? So – my God, I – really, I just have to throw it back to you and tell you, what do you think? – because I’m really – I kind of wonder, does the public have a role to play in this? And if so, what is it?
HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, the problem is that Kanye, from the beginning of his career, has integrated himself into art. It’s not Banksy. He’s not like a performance artist who you don’t know who he is based on his voice; you don’t know his personality. Like, it’s not him. And if you listen to the lyrics to “Eazy,” a lot of those lyrics actually mirror things he’s said on social media and in interviews. It mentions, you know, more tips. I don’t negotiate with therapists. He was open about not taking the medication he was prescribed. And so when that happens and it all comes together in art, you can’t just say you have to separate the art from the artist because it’s playing out right in front of us.
MARTIN: Aisha Harris is the host of NPR’s Pop Culture show Happy Hour, and she’s currently working on a book of essays called “Wannabe: Figuring Out A Life Through Pop Culture.” Aisha Harris, thank you so much for telling us about it.
HARRIS: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE STAPLES SONG, “GET PAID (FEAT. DESI MO)”) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.