The Kanye Controversy One Year On

The Kanye Controversy One Year On

Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to conduct a survey of musical tastes among members of the Tea Party. Granted, the Tea Party is far from a monolithic organization with registered membership--even with the millions of corporate bucks that keep the “movement” afloat. Still, given what we know of this crowd it would be a safe bet that certain trends would be clear.

Bottom dollar that Taylor Swift would find more fans than Kanye West among the uber-conservative cabal.

This seems an appropriate backdrop to the renewed hubbub over Kanye’s ill-timed stunt during Swift’s acceptance speech at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The past week has seen the whole fiasco return to the public spotlight, communique’d to the world in that most thoroughly modern of avenues: Twitter.

Kanye--like many celebs nowadays--loves to tweet. And over the Labor Day weekend he used it as a platform to deliver a series of rather cryptic 140-character bursts ending in the unmistakable “I’m sorry Taylor.” He even reported wrote his new song “Power” with Swift in mind.

Now, we’re all treated once again to journalists and spin-meisters reminding us of that notorious moment when Ye rushed the stage, swiped the mic from an obviously stunned Swift, and relayed the infamous message “Taylor, I'm really happy for you and I'mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time ... of all time!"

With the 2010 VMAs taking place this weekend, it seems to be all we hear about. Some are openly wondering whether West will be able to “behave” himself this year. And if not, what kind of “outburst” will he treat us to? We might yuk it up, but that the whole case can be revived in such a palpable fashion is just more proof about how utterly one-sided the entertainment industry remains.

The media fanfare that’s been stirred to such a frenzy seems to forget that Ye already apologized for his little stunt--publicly, multiple times, explicitly to Swift. And yet, even in the wake of those apologies a year ago, hack scribes couldn’t get enough of taking jabs at the rapper.

Some might say it’s just another example of a sensationalistic media doing what it does best. But when the country music darling Swift was caught just a couple months before the VMAs at a party at Katy Perry’s house posing with a man wearing a giant swastika on his t-shirt, that same media let it slide. “She didn’t know,” her camp said, and commentators took it at face value. After all, they said, “she’s just a girl.”

Note the difference: a blond, waifish white woman adored and fawned over by the music industry is let off the hook for posing with a symbol of hate, not even asked to explain it. But when the hip-hop artist who called out Bush’s racism on live TV has a few too many and pulls a foolish move like Ye did, that patrician pity gives way to vitriolic mockery. Never mind that these kinds of cheap stunts have come to be expected at the VMAs, the post-modern citadel of staged controversy.

As the months progressed and the haters just refused to stop hating, West receded into the background to regroup. Word is that Swift is "furious that Kanye keeps discussing the VMAs incident," which is rather ironic considering that it wasn't Kanye that spun the whole thing way out of proportion in the first place. He’s dropping a new album soon--one can hope it’s a return to form for him. And he’ll be at the VMAs this weekend. Here’s to hoping he can bounce back and rediscover some of the vitality that helped him capture hip-hop’s imagination seven or eight years ago.

As for the apology, one would hope that Ye’s finally paid his due. One would also hope we’ll eventually get the same apology from Swift for subjecting us to her music in the first place.

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies ( and writes the column of the same name for the Society of Cinema and Arts.  He has also appeared in Z Magazine, New Politics,, and others.

He can be reached at