Muckraking & Music­-making: On GRAMMYS, Talent, and Ego


(Republished as written for The Hairpin.)

The GRAMMYS (you have to yell it every time you say it) ended more than 24 hours ago, but grown adults are still online trying to throw mud at millionaires to say who ‘deserved’ the award more. One millionaire made their music alone and had better lyrics on some of their songs, which means the other millionaire, who made their music with a bunch of people, can go eat rocks. However, the other millionaire changed the game as far as distribution goes, and their music has become almost anthemic and more ubiquitous than the other millionaire’s so maybe that millionaire should go jump in a lake. (I know my repeated use of ‘millionaire’ foreshadows an argument that you shouldn’t care because they’re rich-they don’t care because they’re rich. Stick with me here.)

These people don’t care whether or not you think their music is worse because it has less sounds or more dumb words in it, because they put all their care into making it their best before it was even a blip on your radar. Every single person involved in the production and release of Beck and Beyoncé’s latest albums are confident that their work is the best it could be. When it comes to music as an art, everyone wants to compare lyricism and note-complexity as if their ability to shove metaphors and double-time rhythms into music makes it a SHAME that their work isn’t more celebrated. 95% of the people that have a dog in this millionaire mud fight don’t have ‘professional’ musical knowledge that extends past the ability to sight read ‘hot cross buns’ on recorder, and I am no different.

I’m not here to go to bat for Morning Phase or Beyoncé. Each album gave me exactly what it set out to do, and each album couldn’t have done so without hard work, by one person or by many. And even if you understand the industry, composition, production, and history of music inside and out, by arguing that technical ability in any of those areas should’ve earned them an award means you’re trying to argue that a team of voters should’ve exercised a strict set of rules to determine what music they thought was better, as if there’s a formula for how to win a GRAMMY. There isn’t. It’s a contest of opinion and reach. It’s fine (and often fun!) to say that you wish or think someone should’ve won an award, but it’s so petty and childish to set up straw men for proof. You’re also effectively belittling at least one talented person who put in a ton of work by claiming their work was unimportant because of some bullshit ‘winning’ qualification you chose at random.)

Cool! We’ve settled the white noise, now let’s talk about the ringleader that brought this circus to town: Kanye West.

I talk a lot about Kanye and uphold him as sacrosanct with my friends, and I get the impression that they think I do so ironically. Like Kanye and his music fall into the same space of love I feel for The Room, or the idea of three kids stacked vertically in a trench coat. There isn’t a hint of ironic sentiment in my respect, admiration, praise, or love for Kanye and his music. That’s not to say I don’t entertain any argument in the opposition—I love talking about Kanye! I do not love being told to hate him.

Kanye West is the kind of person who would only compliment you if he means it. In a world (not an industry, a WORLD) lacking in assuredness, his confidence and honestly is paramount. Kanye West is impulsive, volatile, and angry, but always with purpose. The world is very dismissive of Kanye because of his actions, but when you’re trying to push ten ounces into a eight ounce cup, you shouldn’t roll your eyes because the cup is overflowing. He may not speak his thoughts as ‘eloquently’ as you’d like (that’s a whole other argument, and I’ve got a black power-fisted side-eye trained on anyone who wants to have it) but he’s fucking real. From head to toe, 100%. He’s real and he’s right at the top for nothing more than his talent. He’s honest and he knows all of his flaws and strengths and acknowledges them equally in his music, because It’s the only platform you’ll give him without scrutinizing his attitude in favor of his words. If you want to form a real opinion on Kanye West, listen to his music. Listen to the things he’s written over and over, cultivated to accurately represent himself, and then set to sounds that form a voice better than your interpretation of his attitude towards paparazzi ever could.

Don’t forget that this time, Kanye’s stage crash and commentary were two separate events. Kanye pulled a referential joke at the Grammys and then gave his honest opinion on the winners when he was asked backstage. Now the Internet is going crazy because he didn’t give us some garbage answer for the sake of diplomacy before fading slowly into the background. The weirdest side effect of Kanye speaking his mind is that you all assume he’s “disrespected” Beck, as if he hasn’t known and respected Beck since referencing him in 2004 on “Get ‘Em High.” Your criticisms of Kanye West fall completely deaf to the only person who you’d want to hear them. Kanye knows exactly what you think of him and it couldn’t affect him any less if you screamed them through a megaphone. He doesn’t care. He truly does not give a shit about your opinion on him. He cares what the people he respects think of him. And more important than that, he cares what he thinks about himself, because past that is a world of people who will tell him to act a way other than he feels because it benefits them.

Kanye’s confidence and self-worth is Tibetan monk-level solid and it will not be brought down because you are trying to throw mud balls at a blimp.