Is Kanye West the most annoying, arrogant, rude, impertinent, graceless, blustering, charmless, overindulged boor in the entire history of popular music – or indeed in the entirety of history ever?
Well, yes, obviously.
But for some of us – me, I confess until this weekend – all these manifest flaws have been more than justified by the man’s superabundant talent.
“Yes, well the man’s earned the right to despise his fans, to diss lovely, sweet Taylor Swift and to be so incredibly shallow that in order to out-bling his rival Jay-Z’s marriage to Beyonce he had to go out and marry a woman notable for only two things (a) the size of her booty b) being more famous than Beyonce.) He can do this stuff because he is an artistic genius.”
That’s what I used to tell people until I saw his headlining set at Glastonbury Festival (England’s Woodstock) at the weekend and appreciated for the first time the main flaw in my argument, viz: Kanye West is not an artistic genius, after all.
Before Kanye West made his appearance at Glastonbury, the bookmakers were offering odds of 2 to 1 that he would be booed off stage before the end of his set.
That is because, by long tradition, Glastonbury is the king of British music festivals – like Woodstock might have been had it ever been any good – and does not take kindly to artistes who think they are bigger than it.
Pretty much anyone who is anyone and who is available and alive has played there. Nirvana never did. Nor did Elvis. But everyone else has, from Page & Plant to Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash to Paul McCartney to the Who to Radiohead to Metallica to Jay Z.
So being allotted the headline Saturday night slot at Glastonbury is quite an honour.
But would Cheesus (as Kanye styles himself) rise to the occasion. Or would he urinate all over it like an incontinent Rottweiler?
Well, on Saturday night about 60,000 of us who’d come to see him had our answer.
The only brief moment of excitement was when a comedian called Lee Nelson invaded the stage (he was holding a mic and at first it looked like he was going to be one of those thrilling guest rappers that Kanye couldn’t be bothered in the end to invite along) in what he claimed was “revenge” for what Kanye did to Taylor Swift. (He interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video awards in 2009).
After that it was like being pounded to terminal boredom by a sledgehammer made of Mogadon and inscribed with the collected speeches of Barack Obama. Something like that, anyway.
The thing Kanye West doesn’t seem to have realised is that a lot of us don’t buy his records for his rapping. For all we care about the political insights of a spoilt millionaire and close personal friend of Barack Obama (allegedly), he might just as well be rapping about pizza toppings or his antique Yu-Gi-Oh! cards collection or the best fish, in his considered view, to have in a 30,000 gallon marine aquarium. It’s not like we’re listening to the actual words – (though I might if they were about the fish: could be quite informative) – they’re just the infill to give Kanye something to do with his mouth while the stuff we do care about (the samples, the hooks, the mash ups, the bit from In The Court of the Crimson King where it goes “Twenty-first century schizoid man”, and so on) gets us swaying and grooving and feeling how pleasingly badassed and Trans Black we all are. (Or real black, even. I understand that Kanye West does have some black fans. Not as nearly as many as he has white fans, obviously. But a few. Apparently).
Yes, of course, there are ALSO Kanye fans who care about his rapping too. These were much in evidence all around me at Glastonbury, chanting the lyrics so loud and word-perfectly I don’t know why they bothered turning up – they could have just piled into an elevator with a few of their mates and shouted Kanye West’s greatest hits at the mirror for two hours. They’re also, I suspect, the reason why he didn’t get booed off stage as he deserved.
But if you weren’t one of those, it was really, really, really boring. I wouldn’t necessarily expect people who think rap all sounds the same to understand this but one reason we music aficionados so love our hip hip is that, of all the genres, it’s the one that probably attracts the best, most interesting producers – Dr Dre, Timbaland, The Neptunes, DJ Shadow, and so on – and creates the richest, most intoxicating sound. An album like West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – which I still love – is like being taken by your parents to the sweetie shop (candy store, if you prefer) and being treated to the entire stock.
So imagine how frustrating it would be if you had to listen to a hip hop artiste so self-obsessed, cocksure and oblivious to the needs of his audience (take a leaf out of Taylor Swift’s book Kanye: she actually cares about her fans. When my girl went to see her in Hyde Park the same time you were playing, she and her friends got a nice shiny bracelet thing – a gift from Taylor) that he decided completely to strip out all that clever, pleasing musical stuff and just concentrate on the basslines, the declamatory rap bollocks, and himself.
Well I’ve no need to imagine. That’s Kanye. And only Kanye. Jay-Z certainly didn’t behave like that when he played Glastonbury. Eminem certainly wouldn’t do it.
No, being a crap performer – and actually having the gall to demand to be respected for it – is purely a Kanye West thing.
Towards the end of his set, Kanye told those of us who had stuck it out (whether we wanted to or not: once you’re in the middle of a crowd of 60,000 or more you’re there for the duration) that we had witnessed a performance by “the greatest living rock star on the planet.”
This, it struck me, isn’t quite accurate. And as he played out his final numbers – including an inexplicable account of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – I began making a mental list of all the bands I’ve seen at Glastonbury or elsewhere over the years who are or were much, much better than Kanye West. (Some, I admit, have passed on. But I’ve a suspicion that even the dead ones could still put on a more impressive act than Kanye did at the weekend)
A short list of rock stars who are better than Kanye West
Page & Plant; Eat; Lush; The Chemical Brothers; The Prodigy; Foo FightersOasis; New Fast Automatic Daffodils; Paul McCartney; Patti Smith; Future Islands; Dreadzone; PJ Harvey; Tricky; Paul Oakenfold; The Killers; Radiohead; The Rolling Stones; DJ Shadow; The Happy Mondays; Inspiral Carpets; Neil Young & Crazy Horse; Dizzee Rascal; New Model Army; Massive Attack; David Bowie; Duran Duran; Michael Jackson; Mogwai; Jesus Jones; Tracy Chapman; Lou Reed; Bob Dylan; Rodriguez; Love; Rolf Harris; The Unthanks; The Who; Supergrass; Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci; John Grant; Midlake; Trashmonk; Gravenhurst; Florence & The Machine; Burt Bacharach; Jamie T; Suede; The XX; Amadou and Mariam; Elbow; Ash; New Order; Primal Scream; The Flaming Lips; Gorillaz; U2; Coldplay; Arcade Fire; Gregory Isaacs; Bjork; Manic Street Preachers; The White Stripes; The Verve; Neil Diamond; Blondie; Smashing Pumpkins; Elvis Costello; Carter USM; The Black Crowes; Jeff Buckley; Pulp; Moby; Brian Wilson; Arctic Monkeys; Leonard Cohen; Rage Against The Machine; Lenny Kravitz; The Cure; Depeche Mode; Frank Turner; Caribou; Todd Terje & The Olsens; Fatboy Slim; Four Tet; Leftfield; Django Django; Skrillex; Franz Ferdinand; Fatboy Slim; Lamb; Groove Armada; Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The list is not exhaustive.