Kanye (plus Taylor Swift, Big Sixes and others)

This is essentially a continuation of the last post (on the personal/private divide), as I intended that one to make some brief points but the topic felt too deep to ignore. You don't have to read it to make sense of this post. I basically discussed how social media allows us to know the personalities behind the music we listen to.

Whatever your opinion of him, even if it's sheer, bone crushing apathy (as it was for me for a while), almost every corner of the Western world has heard of Kanye West. I can't find a figure for how many people watched his performance headlining Glastonbury on Saturday night, but hundreds of thousands, or possibly a million odd, wouldn't surprise me. I watched it because I knew someone would ask my opinion of it. And people are talking about it, which is the ultimate goal - but we'll get to that later.

Now we know more about our favourite musicians than snippets of live show ramblings, thanks in a CD insert, or the odd off-the-beaten-track interview, heavy PR campaigns can make even the ever-vigilant media malleable to create the perfect impression of an artist. That's not always necessary, though, and I'm going to talk through a variety of these best known personalities or quirks that go hand in hand with the music.

lonely the brave - Dave Jakes feels most comfortable singing not at the front of the stage (and I feel his vocals benefit from it so no complaints here), so he stands by the drum kit. It's not a big deal, but it's pretty unique to the band, it's become a lonely the brave "thing".

Brand New - Jesse Lacey seems to have opted for the Morrissey style of flowers in the mic, but with Brand New it's generally safest to predict the weirdest thing they can do as that's probably what they'll go for. Look at the mental and turbulent run up to Mene if you've no idea what else they've done (my friend wrote all about it here). They're the masters of keeping people on their toes.

Alabama 3 - Named after the miscarriages of justice (Birmingham 6, Guilford 4, Maguire 7 etc), their mantra includes the following: "And we want to make you feel good. We know you've had trouble in your life, real bad trouble. We know you've got debts. We know you've had your heart broken so many times you're still finding pieces of it in your pillow. Maybe you've done some good things in your life, maybe you've done some bad things. We forgive you. Forgive yourself. Then dress up real sexy and come and party with us sometime. We'll look after you.".There's a real mixed vibe of partying and activism when you talk to them or go to their show. Their full piece is here, and it's well worth a read. 

I could go on. The Gallaghers, The 1975, Eagulls, they've all got these big, stand out traits that automatically get associated with them.

I've seen, on occasion, Kanye described as a brand, so I wanted to look into other musicians where the same could be considered.

Big Sixes. These are the sort of people who'll go above and beyond for every fan. They run a thing called Club Omega, which is all about doing what the fuck you want. Big Sixes released a fifteen minute film, The Idles, to accompany their EP of the same name, and had a photo show. They produce a zine, and all sorts of merchandise. The beautiful thing about Big Sixes is that they do what they want to do and don't adhere to the art-sapping structured corner of creation that most musicians find themselves subconsciously backed into.

Taylor Swift. Oh, Tay Tay. You can call her money grabbing and annoying as much as you like, she's doing little artists a favour with the moves she's making regarding Spotify and Apple Music. She came back last year with a whole new vibe, not just in the confidence of her straight up, fun and infectious pop music, but with this encouraging, open, supportive attitude. Even if it is all for show, we've seen a million examples of this across the news. Allegedly paying for taxis at Radio 1's Big Weekend, the whole deal with the paying for college fees, and her whole "music is art, and art is important and rare" line are perfect examples.
However you look at it, she's fighting in the corner not just for fairness in the music industry, but for the little guys. No, maybe the likes of her and other chart-toppers don't
need the money, but I see it as the principle. You can have all the (effectively) fair trade promoters, record labels and venues going on at an underground level, but it needs the big players to make moves for the other big players to listen. Taylor's created her persona as a good Samaritan type figure.

We're finally there: Kanye. Most people have some sort of theory about Kanye's attitude - either justifying it ("he's so big, he can do what he wants", "he doesn't have to be perfect just because he's famous", "you can't criticise Kanye") or condemning it ("he should be a better example", "no one else could get away with that", "he's a massive dick"). My theory? He just wants to get people talking. If so, by writing this blog post I have succumb to his "plan" (as it shall hereinafter be called). I don't mind; let's talk about Kanye.

Take the standing on a Nando's table malarky and letting everyone get a photo of him. Apparently this was a deal of mocking the media for getting photos of celebrities in "ordinary" places - you know the kind of thing. If anything this made it more of a story though, not a non-story. It certainly got people talking. Telling the person in the wheelchair to stand up? I've no idea what justification anyone can put behind that, but… it got people talking.

Let's finally get onto his Glastonbury performance. Over the past few months (with stunts such as the aforementioned), he's been working up quite a bit of anticipation for this show, mainly people wanting to see what the hell he decided to do. He had big expectations to live up to, one man dividing the world almost equally and trying to win over a crowd not just in front of him, but across the globe as people watched from the comfort of their own space. So here's my opinion going into the performance: a brand. One that has spent long enough in the eyes of the media to know how it works, how it responds, like a Venus fly trap that greedily replies to touch. A brand of egotistical, hedonistic, pride - how couldn't you become that when you divide the nation so well, knowing that regardless of how many people dislike you, your next album will still sell well? Millions could hate you and you'd still be a success.

This ego justifies/excuses the "greatest living rockstar" comment. Extreme, surprising, and technically inaccurate (has anyone ever described him as a "rockstar"?), it lives up to the archetypal role of egomaniac he's set himself with.
The dressing room deal. Have you ever seen a pantomime where the actors "forget" their lines? Of course you have, because it nigh on always happens. It's light hearted, it's humorous, it relaxes things; in short, it makes the show feel more personal to that audience. Instead of laughing at the actors, you're laughing at the people - and when they laugh, you laugh with them. A semi-personal connection is formed. Though a lot of people consider Kanye to be a joke, it's not a complex that can be directly transferred; however, it gives opportunity for people to say, "I was there when Kanye started complaining about what was agreed on the dressing room, and then the cherry picker happened", or even, "I was there when Kanye forgot the words to Bohemian Rhapsody". Yeah, of course he did.

Not saying "hi" or thanking the crowd? Well, I'm sure loads of people do this. I'm sure Morrisey's been known to do it (in fact in many ways they adopt the same I Do What The Fuck I Want Because I Can attitude, and this review makes a comparison, too). Despite all this prancing and dancing, my favourite of the set probably came as No Church In The Wild. Possibly for its straight forwardness amongst the hectic, bizarre performance.

Trick after trick, Kanye gets people talking, he has the (God, I hate this word) "haters" and the fans fixated, as well at those merely curious as to what he does next.

Charlie Costello of Big Sixes (one of my absolute heroes, for those who didn't already know), once tweeted that even though Hoover is a brand, everyone calls vacuums Hoovers, and that he wanted Big Sixes to be the musical equivalent - he wanted kids to say they wanted to start a Big Sixes. I reckon they could do that if they put their mind to it, but for now, I think everyone wants to be a Kanye.

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