In a culture war you can’t be too picky about who your friends are, even less your celebrities.
The stars never come out for President Donald Trump, not during his campaign and certainly not at his inauguration. Where President Obama danced an elegant waltz while Beyoncé sang At Last and Stevie Wonder, Puff Daddy and Sting looked on, Trump’s big moment was accompanied by the crooning of Erin Boehme (me neither).
Suddenly, things have changed. Kanye West – the rapper whose global celebrity is still juggernaut-sized despite not having released any decent music since 2007 – has done the previously unthinkable: he’s started tweeting pro-Trump messages.
Unsurprisingly, West’s tweets – which have included a picture of himself wearing a Make America Great Again cap personally signed by the President and the statement: “You don’t have to agree with Trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother” – have been seized on with glee by the right and caused fury and bewilderment on the liberal left. Donald Trump Jr has stated:
“It’s always incredible to watch a cultural shift happen in real time. I respect those willing to take the lead in breaking convention”.
Meanwhile, A-listers such as Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamarr and Katy Perry have all reportedly shunned West by hitting the unfollow button. Singer John Legend, referring to West as “the greatest artist of our generation”, even implored the rapper by text message to “reconsider aligning yourself with Trump. You’re way too powerful and influential to endorse who he is and what he stands for.” West posted the communication online, along with his reply, in which he accused his friend of trying to “manipulate my free thought.”
The cultural shift – if that is what it is – began on April 21 when, apropos of nothing, West tweeted: “I love the way Candace Owens thinks”. Owens is a Trump supporting (she has referred to him as “the saviour”) telegenic black woman who is vocal in her belief black people in America should stop wallowing in what she deems “victim culture” since no black person alive was around when slavery was legal. Predictably, given the controversy her views cause, West’s endorsement of Owens – pre his Trump double-down – lit up the internet. Alt-right commentators such as Paul Watson labelled it “a watershed moment for the culture war.”
Whether that’s true or not, it is refreshing to see just a little let up in the chokehold plutocrat Western celebrities seem to think they exert over political thought –always left, always passive-aggressive. West may not be the world’s greatest political thinker (most of what he has to say on the internet is in fact crass to the point of tedium), but no one can argue he isn’t culturally relevant, even if they can’t define exactly why, beyond his marriage to the often naked pop icon Kim Kardashian. It must also be said West’s political intervention now is a good deal less cringe-inducing than fellow past it rapper Eminem’s was last October, when he released a video of himself ranting idiotically in a multi-storey carpark against Trump.
The fervour with which the right is rushing to embrace West shows in itself just how starved of star power their side of the argument has been to this point. Overlooked in their delight is West’s apparent history of recent mental illness – he was hospitalised in 2016 after a deeply strange 17-minute stream of consciousness diatribe on stage in Sacramento – and a back catalogue of vigorously misogynistic lyrics (sample: “Have you ever had sex with a pharoah?/ I put the pussy in a sarcophagus/ Now she’s claiming I bruised her oesophagus/ Head of the class and she just won a swallowship” etc.).
It will be interesting to see how West’s career now plays out. Since President Trump was elected there have been increasingly harder to ignore signs that the public is growing more than tired of feeling the seething disapproval of virtue-signalling multimillionaire entertainers. The ratings for the most recent Oscars luvvie-fest, for example, plunged to an all time low as the disconnect between the public and its stars made itself abundantly apparent.
West’s career has been in steady decline since 2005’s lyrically brilliant and playful Late Registration album. In 2016, he claimed to be $53 million in debt, following efforts to launch a fashion empire (his wife bailed him out: “sorry I’m late to the party guys, I was busy cashing my $80 million video game cheque and transferring $53 million into our joint account,” she memorably tweeted). However, his decision to embrace the right could reinvigorate his career and then you can bet he won’t be the last fame hungry celebrity to cross the left/right Rubicon in 2018. In fact, there’s a good chance there will be a stampede. And then we really will be witnessing a cultural shift.
No wonder the President tweeted: “Thank you, Kanye. Very cool!”