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Kanye West vs. White Mediocrity: The Real Story Behind Beck, Beyoncé and SNL 40

February 18, 2015 in Blogs

By Arthur Chu, Salon

There's a reason Kanye takes more heat than anyone.

There was a lot to criticize about the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary celebration–Jerry Seinfeld’s #SorryNotSorry joshing around about “SNL’s” 40-year history of whiteness, cringeworthy reminders of the show’s tendency to run dubiously funny gags into the ground, and the mystifying continued relevance of Sarah Palin.

So it was strange–though not surprising, for Internet junkies–that Kanye West came in for an avalanche of criticism for doing what was basically a competent, if flawed, music video that was as good or better than any other musical act that night.

But this is par for the course with the ever-rolling tide of Kanye West hot takes. It’s never really about the last thing he did, it’s about the thing he did before–the (sigh) 2015 Grammygate incident–and whether that thing reminds you of something else he did before (the 2009 VMAgate incident), and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

And yes, it’s hard to hold back commentary about someone who yanks the mic away at an awards show to contest the results, who makes pronouncements like “I will go down as the voice of this generation,” who titles an album punning his name and “Jesus,” who compares making social change to fixing his wife’s pants.

But the tone has changed since 2009, when West grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs. Back then, Pink bluntly called West “the biggest piece of shit in the world” and got a lot of virtual high-fives; Garbage’s Shirley Manson tried to repeat this act in Beck’s defense and got more of a mixed response. Only a handful of critics tried to halfheartedly defend Kanye in 2009; in 2015 I’ve seen multiple nuanced thinkpieces about how he has a point. These stories have defended him as an important black American voice, and told white people to shut up about it already.

Why the suddenly swelling ranks of volunteers to fight in defense of the West? (Sorry, I had to.)

Social media has changed the game a lot in the past six years. There’s a lot of voices–lumped under names like “Black Twitter”–who have begun to consistently speak out to …read more


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