BY NUHA ISLAM
After a year’s hiatus from social media, rapper Kanye West returned to the platform to promote his two upcoming albums. Amid a flood of philosophical shower thoughts and emoji stylistic preferences, came political declarations that sparked much controversy.
“You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy,” a tweet by West said. “He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
While his public allegiance to Trump was surprising, his other statements have been far more jarring. West also used his return to make his thoughts about slavery known. In an interview with TMZ, West made it clear he thought of American colonial slavery as a choice.
“When you hear about slavery for 400 years … for 400 years?” West said. “That sounds like a choice.”
In the ensuing aftermath, with fans and followers left scratching their heads, came hashtags such as #IfSlaveryWasAChoice. All this attention to Kanye’s inflammatory comments ultimately serves a wider purpose– to generate talk about West and lead to more album sales.
But this form of publicity is dangerous, and while it may boost his sales, it comes with negative connotations.
West is no stranger to publicity stunts. Notorious for interrupting award shows, West has been gracing headlines since 2005.
“Taylor [Swift] I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time,” West said at MTV’s Video Music Awards (VMAs) in 2009.
In 2006 MTV Europe Awards he argued on stage that his “Touch the Sky” video should have beaten eventual winners “We Are Your Friends” by Simian Mobile Disco and “Justice Again.” At the 2015 Grammys, he stopped himself interrupting Beck’s acceptance speech when he beat Beyonce to Best Album. West later said that Beck should have respected music and given the award to Beyonce. He has even given a lecture at Oxford University saying he could be greater than Picasso if he studied fine art.
West’s use of controversy to further his fame rarely stays in the scope of pop culture. But after Hurricane Katrina, he also took to making his political opinion heard, saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” after the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina.
Cases like this make West’s support for Trump more confusing as Trump has described African nations with explicit language. Especially since many of Kanye’s work centers around his struggle as an African American.
In a study conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, author Alan Sorensen explains how any attention to a brand increases product awareness.
“Most companies are concerned with one of two problems, either they’re trying to figure out how to get the public to think their product is a good one, or they’re just trying to get people to know about their product,” Sorensen said. “In some markets, where there are lots of competing products, they’re more preoccupied with the latter. In that case, any publicity, positive or negative, turns out to be valuable.”
For West, who has well over 28 million Twitter followers, highly volatile comments have a larger impact than just brand awareness. Beyond a marketing tool, politically charged statements have connotations that stretch beyond pop culture, and someone with a large social media outreach like West can influence the discussion of politics.
“There has always been people who deny the legitimacy of slavery. These comments never make it to the mainstream,” senior Bruce Glasserman said. “This is exactly what makes Kanye’s denial of the reality of slavery bad. He is a public figure, one that is well regarded for his artistic contributions.”
Making explosive comments may be good at drawing public attention, but toes the line of ruining a celebrity’s credibility. For West, many of his core supporters have already been alienated.
Photo courtesy of The Grammy Awards