Surreal online interactions have become the norm in the years since Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. Perhaps no one has embraced Twitter’s potential to bring unlikely figures together more than rapper and producer Kanye West. On April 25, for example, he tweeted, “burn that excel spreadsheet” without any context, prompting comedy account “Wu-Tang Financial” and Microsoft Excel’s official account to come together and defend the popular spreadsheet software. Numerous users commented on the odd humor of this juxtaposition, but perhaps nothing in the history of Twitter is as strange as West’s most recent political outbursts and his eventual acknowledgement by the president himself, also a heavy Twitter user.
Uncomfortable ideas are important because they make us question our values. Artists have often been at the front lines of social and political change, forcing us to consider the way we live and the causes we support. West has forgone meaningful social commentary in favor of nice-sounding platitudes (“it’s really cool to say I hate you. But it’s not cool to say I love you. Love has a stigma”) and endorsements of conservative figureheads like Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. Despite his claim that he is the enlightened one – “we’re being starved and anyone who starts asking unpopular questions gets demonized” – West often espouses contentious positions, blaming the poor and oppressed. For a high-profile artist like Kanye West to champion such controversial and inflammatory ideologies is surprising and deeply disappointing.
What is perhaps most frustrating is that these problematic ideas are packaged with generic ideas about love, attempting to mask the hatefulness and exclusion that Trump and MAGA represent in the eyes of many. West’s wealth and status insulate him from certain social and economic issues, allowing him the privilege of tweeting about these issues from afar without enacting real steps that can be made toward change. Rapper and recent West collaborator T.I. has said, “He don’t know the things that we know because he’s removed himself from society to a point where it don’t reach him,” suggesting that West doesn’t truly understand these issues at all.
In Twitter, West has an always-on way to share his unfiltered thoughts to anyone willing to read them; his account currently has nearly 30 million followers. With such huge exposure, it has become difficult to escape hearing about the latest thing West has done.
Given his consistently dramatic and contrarian public persona, it is fair to assume that “no press is bad press” may be West’s mantra at the moment. He plans to release an album in June, and any media coverage – no matter how controversial – guarantees more sales. West appears to be using his massive cultural influence to capitalize on racial tensions in America, in particular. While provocation can be an effective promotional technique, the way he utilizes such devastatingly relevant national issues for his own gain is irresponsible and inappropriate. West, and celebrities in general, must be wary of their influence when they choose to speak out on matters as delicate as these.