Do we really want our celebrities to be relatable? Famous people are (usually) rich people and most rich people are hopelessly out of touch with the common person. When rich people try to relate to real people, they often end up making a gaffe — like claiming, for example, that you need ID to buy groceries — that reveals just how removed they are from the people they’re ostensibly identifying with.
They look phony and phony is a bad look for famous people. But if a famous person is too honest or outspoken, particularly on sensitive political or social issues, there can be severe consequences. Ask Colin Kaepernick. Or Kanye West.
As you no doubt remember, Kanye reemerged this spring following his 2016 mental health crisis with a signed MAGA Hat and unpopular thoughts about slavery. This lead to him getting #cancelled by many on the left, most of whom were no doubt cheering him on when he was alienating a different subset of voters with his infamous George W. Bush remarks.
But unlike the celebrities who walked back their support for Trump (or even conservatives in general), Kanye would not cower. By the time his album Ye dropped with an anticlimactic plunk in June, the same pop culture press that had once elevated him to God Level seemed now to be actively rooting against him.
Despite releasing another album with Kid Cudi and producing three others in a month-long span, Kanye hadn’t made another TV appearance since that fateful TMZ episode that revealed his pro-Trump leanings. That changed last night when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! for a chat with his old frenemy.
The three segments are worth watching in full:
Like every other Kanye interview, it’s uniquely compelling, an odd mixture of trainwreck awkwardness (ugh, that PornHub back-and-forth), hilarious one-liners (“well, he IS a player”), swashbuckling arrogance ([interrupting scattered applause] “sorry, I know you guys wanted to clap but everything I’m gonna say is gonna be amazing”) and stream-of-consciousness candor alternating between insight (“we never had therapists in the black community”) and incoherence (his coffee table analogy about living in a simulation).
Kanye has long been a polarizing personality but he has never been insincere. He is our most honest celebrity, almost to a fault. You may not like what he says but at least he’s not bullshitting you.
But maybe we want a little bullshit. Maybe when famous people bear their souls and open up, we find we’d prefer the illusion. Lost in the MAGA blowback is that fact that Kanye is taking a candid, even courageous approach to talking about mental health. “I Thought About Killing You,” which Kanye and Kimmel discuss at length, is a hard song to listen to, which is exactly the point. You may no longer agree with his politics but no one can accuse Kanye of betraying the promise he made on Pusha T’s “What Would Would Meek Do?”: “No more hiding my scars, I show them like Seal, right?”
Right. That’s a rare thing for a celebrity to do, much less someone in the world of rap, where braggadocio and exaggeration have long been core tenets. Based on the accounts of those closest to him, Kanye is in a much better place now that he’s faced his demons and come out the other side. He’s not concerned with what others are saying about him because he’s going to continue to speak his truth. He’s focused on where he’s going, not where he’s been.
It’s not always easy to watch Kanye West. He’s prone to popping off without fully considering his position (his silence when Kimmel peppered him about Trump’s border policy was revealing). He’s a flawed, complicated person who is often hard to watch. But if we can peak through the cracks of the fingers covering our face, we might learn something from him.