What’s the difference between Kanye West and the space cadets of Speakers’ Corner? Without having access to their bank statements, the biggest distinction between the two parties is that when Mr West (‘Yeezus’ to his friends) played a gig in London on Friday, he was standing on a state-of-the-art stage set rather than a stolen classroom chair.
Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to make a distinction. You won’t find many differences in their public speech, that’s for sure. ‘I am Shakespeare in the flesh!’ he once declared, before dropping the false humility and admitting that he was in fact ‘God’s vessel.’
His set at the Wireless festival this weekend was no departure from past form; to the backing of the audience’s boos, he went off on one for 25-minutes, complaining about the fashion industry and indeed pretty much anything else you’d care to name. ‘I plan to change the world!’ he yelled, from under a rather fetching mask, studded with – what else? – diamonds. ‘Fuck saving face!’ he added as the crowd began to boo. The press was not spared his ire: ‘They steal you from you and sell you back to you!’ Oh Kanye. You’re the gift that keeps on giving.
If you’ve ever so much as heard of a gossip magazine, you’ll know Kanye as a brazen self-promoter, a tiresomely ubiquitous pain in the arse. His sanctimony is world-beating, his expertise in absolutely everything apparently boundless. ‘I am so credible and influential and so relevant that I will change things,’ he once opined. If you wired Tony Blair’s inner monologue to a keyboard, you’d basically get Kanye’s Twitter feed.
His behaviour is obnoxious and his music nowhere near as interesting as even his most prosaic description would suggest. You shouldn’t hold it against him, though. Yawn all you want at his self-proclaimed genius (he helpfully described his recording process in terms of ‘Michelangelo and Picasso, you know, the pyramids’) and vacuous selfies with Kim Kardashian. But don’t deny they’re not immensely entertaining – which is exactly what pop stars are supposed to be, isn’t it?
It’s a cliché to say that pop music is more a branding exercise than an art form, but it’s true nonetheless – and always has been. Music comes second to attention-seeking, and that, I think, is healthy. It shouldn’t be about chin-stroking; it’s an industry based on sex, dancing and stupid clothes, and thus a good pop star’s job is to entertain and annoy in equal measure. But somewhere along the line, it all got self-conscious.
Look at almost any other singer or band with the same status as Kanye West. Jay-Z has retreated into working-lunch anonymity. The release of a new Coldplay album is considered an ‘event’. The editor of this publication has described Beyoncé as a ‘conservative icon’, and Ed Sheeran, the ultra-boring singer songwriter from Suffolk, has been branded The Voice of a Generation™. Put it this way: these days, Sting – yes! Sting! – is actually considered interesting. Showbiz has become about as exciting as an IKEA store room.
Then there are the supposedly outlandish megastars of the moment. Take Lady Gaga. Try as one might to take offence at her meat-clad vaudeville, it’s hard to shake the sense that Madonna did it all a lot better 25 years ago. Speaking of which, even Madonna’s become dull. What’s going on? When did pop stars forget how to wind people up?
I’ve got a feeling we’ll come to think of the singers of today as unglamorous bores with Fair Trade slogans Biro-ed onto their forearms. Or, alternatively, we’ll picture Kanye West wearing a gimp mask and comparing himself to Jesus, gold chains dangling of him like naff cobwebs. Dunno about you, but I know which one I’d choose to remember.