Kanye West, invoking his grandparents’ unending disagreement over boxing great Muhammad Ali, told Jimmy Kimmel, “You’re gonna love me or you’re gonna hate me, but I’m gonna be me.” The remark was one of many instant quotables from an October 9 Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance that followed from West’s scathing Twitter response to a silly sketch where Kimmel had children act out the Yeezus rapper’s intense BBC Radio 1 interview. The catalyst for the interview may have been juvenile in every sense — West’s tweets included an image comparing how Kimmel looks to SpongeBob SquarePants — but what the host’s opening monologue dubbed “the great Kimmel-West debate of 2013” covered a broad range of serious topics. (So many that U.K. rock laureates Arctic Monkeys, listed at the start of the show as the musical guest, never got to appear.)
After Kimmel and West assured everyone their previous feud had not been a publicity stunt despite Kimmel’s previous orchestration of brilliant publicity stunts, the two launched into a conversation that shed light on the paradox that is celebrity. “For me I’m a creative genius and there’s no other way to word it,” West said, after explaining that his BBC interview earnestly addressed “a lot of things i’ve been dealing with over the last 10 years when I was put in the classification of just a celebrity.” The conversation closed with a stem-winding series of remarks from the rapper — probably the reason there was no time for the band behind AM — where West touched on fashion, racism, classism, the civil rights movement, Paula Deen, Michael Jackson, and how his inspirations are people like Steve Jobs, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci. But even there, the remarks may have been most revealing about celebrity.
West believably and admirably insisted that “my intention is always positive” and “I want to help the world,” right before launching into praise for Gucci. What’s fascinating, especially to a non-celebrity, is that he sees being famous as an impediment to that rather than a huge assist. He said celebrities are “treated like zoo animals” and like “their dreams are not serious.” One second he would insist, credibly, “I could care less about any of those cameras in all honesty.” The next he would refer to his BBC interview as something “something extremely fearless for a person in my position to do.” He’d say he never wanted to play the phony game that gets you on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and then, like My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields denouncing the Mercury Prize while also complaining about being snubbed, he argued his baby’s mother Kim Kardashian should be on the Walk of Fame.
In one particularly enthusiastic moment, West — again referring to his “position” — suggested his Twitter tirade was significant because it broke away from celebrity conventions. “I just thought it was so amazing that i was saying this in real time, in real life,” he said. “As soon as you’re a celebrity, you’re not allowed to say anything anymore. I just thought that was amazing, man.” Not to underestimate the challenges of being rich and famous, but where we live, most people go through their working lives unable to go around talking about how other people don’t get “good pussy.”
Adding to the focus on the nature of celebrity was the rest of the Kimmel episode. One sketch (also below) featured Lil Wayne, Fall Out Boy, Big Sean, Ke$ha, 2 Chainz, Backstreet Boys, Zach Brown Band, Pharrell, Lady Antebellum, John Mayer, Adam Levine, Kid Rock, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Selena Gomez, Mayer Hawthorne, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, and others reading hateful tweets directed at them (Highlight: Weezy admitting he doesn’t know what a crabapple is). Words can hurt, but in the end, who is more powerful: the huge-selling artists who are getting a TV platform, or @fknstvn?
West has ambitions to become a major fashion designer, an educator, and more — and that would be great on so many levels. What’s weird is that he sees fame as an obstacle, not a launching pad. He said that “as a celebrity, I’ve reached a ceiling.” Is there a point where, unless you’re a Madonna or a Miley Cyrus or a Lady Gaga and celebrity is part of your art, providing constant TMZ fodder hinders your reputation rather than helps it? Of course.
West’s Kimmel rapprochement shows he remains a tangled artist that people will, yes, love and hate in equal measure. And anyway, what the hell do we know? “I feel media does everything they can to break creatives,” he said (“Creatives” was a word he used a lot). “I do everything I can to break media.” Too bad: He might’ve liked Arctic Monkeys.