There was a moment last night during the Grammys that felt like a juncture of redemption. Beck had just won for Album of the Year (over the more deserving Beyoncé) and Kanye West stood up, walked on stage and pantomimed stealing the mic much like he infamously did to Taylor Swift. Only this time, Kanye didn't say that Beyonce deserved to win. He simply smiled and sat back down.
Everyone in the audience laughed. Kim looked relieved. Taylor Swift was smiling. Jay Z looked horrified until he realized what was going on. Classic Jay. It was all a certified dad joke from the #1 dad in the game.
Only, it wasn’t a joke. We all knew what he meant, even without him saying anything. The mere action confirmed Kanye echoed our sentiments of, "Wait, Beck made an album this year?" It was a powerful message from a powerful man during a Grammy night filled with homages to black culture. It felt like a victory for the people who understand what Kanye is saying.
Just as quickly as the Grammys were over, Kanye and Kim were giving an interview to Khloe Kardashian at the E! Afterparty. Kanye took off the mic flag that read "E!" and told Khloe that his joke wasn't a joke after all. He meant to send a message. Kanye West is tired of great art continually being unrecognized. Because, like it or not, the Grammys do matter.
"I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us," West said. "We ain't gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should've given his award to Beyoncé."
Kanye is a rock star and he's going to do rock star shit that makes you say, 'What the fuck was that?'
To a degree, Kanye's critique of Beck feels less like an admonishing of the artist and more like widely aimed commentary on the music industry as a whole. It's not Beck’s fault he won the Grammy. All he did was make an album for people to consume and critique. Kanye's not mad at Beck, he's mad at a systematic misrepresentation of black artistry throughout creative power systems. The Grammys don't televise the Rap and R&B awards, even though Rap and R&B make up a large percentage of Top 40 radio's airtime. That's by design and Kanye understands that and wants it to change.
Hell, it could be as simple as Kanye sticking up for a friend as he's infamously done before. Sometimes you have a few too many and you talk some shit. It's happened to all of us, albeit not in front of millions of people worldwide. Mix in the fact that he feels like his fam was snubbed and there you go. Everything is Pusha T and now everything is Beyoncé too.
Serious think piece voice aside, what Kanye said was fucking funny. People need to chill out and have fun once in awhile. Let me tell you a little something about having fun, NEWSFLASH: It's tight. Kanye is a rock star and he's going to do rock star shit that makes you say, "What the fuck was that?" But at the same time it's going to make you think about what he's saying. So, when he's up on the stage of a powerful media conglomerate, telling the hosts to take off their branded microphone sleeves, it's supposed to be funny. When he calls Kim the most beautiful person in the world and has her do an impromptu runway walk, it's supposed to make you smile. Life is too short to be mad on vacation.
In many ways, Kanye feels like an extension of Us. He embodies the classic rags to riches story we were taught as children to give us hope in the oppressive, capitalist system we were born into against our will. We've seen him grow and develop over the last decade from a proud young adult to a proud man. He's relatable, some would say human to a fault and, perhaps most importantly, earnestly honest.
I sincerely believe Kanye wants to change the world through design. Whether that be clothing, music or water bottles, it doesn't really matter. The message stays the same throughout: Create without reservations, collaborate and reward artists for their work. Instead of bitching about the merits of Real Music™ online, take that message to heart. Go outside and look at nature. Text your homies and see if they want to get coffee. Let's build, fam.
Alex Hancock is a writer living in the future so the present is his past, but really he's in Indianapolis. Follow his problematic Twitter here.