So you may have heard that Kanye West is running for President in 2020. He made the announcement at the very end of his twelve minute speech accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday.
If you missed it live, I’m sure you’ve heard about it on Twitter, Facebook or from friends. Even if you don’t like Kanye or only know him as the guy who stirs up shit on awards shows who’s married to a Kardashian and did a duet with Paul McCartney, you’ve heard about it. CNN even picked it up:
#KanyeWest: “I have decided in 2020 to run for president” #VMAs #kanyespeech http://t.co/votyXRTm4L via @DeenaZaruCNN pic.twitter.com/cQH2xLb5L4
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 1, 2015
Whether Kanye actually makes a serious run at the presidency or not (he probably has to at least try), I think he knew that it would guarantee people would listen to his speech. I wouldn’t have listened to it otherwise and I have to admit that I liked what I heard.
Honest Deconstruction of Awards Show Culture
He started by acknowledging Taylor Swift and the infamous 2009 VMAs incident where Kanye rudely interrupted her acceptance speech. Would he do it again, now that he’s a father? He left that one open. What he didn’t leave ambiguous was that he felt MTV used this incident as part of their marketing push by having Swift present him the award. This led to a commentary on the competitive nature of pop culture, and this is where things got really interesting. After stating that he doesn’t understand awards shows, Kanye went on to beautifully describe how truly messed up the concept behind them and most of modern pop culture is.
Getting it Heard
Kanye’s speech attacked the predatory nature of the entertainment industry, and by doing it from one of the industry’s biggest televised stages he made it all the more poignant. However, if he hadn’t added the announcement that he was running for president, I more than likely wouldn’t have watched it.
Though the VMAs viewership dropped 18% from last year, people who were watching on network television were only a fraction of the audience. I, for one, “watched” the VMAs on Twitter and this allowed me to pick and choose what parts of the show I wanted to watch. I only played the videos that interested me, adding my voice to the chorus once, in a very self-dating sort of way:
Back in my day, we had real feuds at the #VMAs like Courtney Love trying to start a fight with Axl Rose while holding her baby #VMAs2015 — Jason C. McLean (@jasoncmclean) August 31, 2015
Someone like me would have definitely skipped Kanye’s acceptant speech if it hadn’t started trending on social media, something Kanye was definitely aware of when he announced his candidacy for president. In fact, “Kanye’s running for President” was pretty much the only thing any tweet about his speech said. Some even decided to riff on the theme:
You’re welcome. pic.twitter.com/zTkPjc93Bl
— Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) August 31, 2015
Without that hook at the end, the speech may have only been heard by the live audience and Kanye fans looking for any bit of Yeezus they could find. With it, millions more got to hear it.
Only Nixon Could go to China
His speech was a brilliant catch 22. While Kanye eviscerated pop culture and modern media beautifully, he simultaneously used their platforms to promote this evisceration. And whether or not you’re a fan of Kanye, you should at least respect the mans love of paradoxes.
As the saying goes, only Nixon could go to China. In the same way, only a celebrity like Kanye West can properly critique celebrity culture and have a large enough audience to have his critique matter.
With Kanye’s deadly combination of media manipulation skills, his commentary on pop culture, as well as his position within it, there is probably no other celebrity who’s playing the game quite like he is.
If you haven’t already, you should do yourself a favour and listen to his speech: