It’s all fun and games until somebody brings up Trump. Kanye West‘s once giddily fun return to Twitter took a polarizing turn earlier this week, when the Chicago rap mogul abruptly traded a spree of shiny motivational quotes and surprise album announcements for what appeared to be extended endorsements of several right-wing figures and ideas.
“I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” began ‘Ye’s political spiral on April 21, referring to the popular “Red Black Pill” YouTuber who once called Black Lives Matter protesters “whiny toddlers.” And if you assumed Kanye’s offhand comment was a fluke, think again: West was back at it on April 23, tweeting not one but nine videos from Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist-turned-Trump-supporter who has argued that rape is a “natural instinct” for men. More recently (and it’s getting hard to keep up), West professed “love” for his “brother” Donald Trump (“we are both dragon energy”) and tweeted two photos of the president’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hat. Trump retweeted both in apparent appreciation.
We’ve known West is at least not against the president for some time — remember when the two posed for a photo at Trump Tower? — but his latest round of comments have attracted greater scrutiny from both the media and his peers. He certainly wasn’t the only superstar to wade into political waters this week: Country queen Shania Twain faced backlash for telling The Guardian she would have voted for Trump (she’s Canadian), which is roughly what Kanye told fans at a concert in 2016 (though he didn’t vote at all). Yet the different reactions to their similar comments reveal a lot about why we take certain celebrities’ views seriously and not others’ (at least not right away). While Twain was swiftly “canceled” by her left-leaning followers, it has taken a few days for Kanye’s fans and famous peers to come to terms with his tweets, the consequences of which are still unfolding.
To be fair, there have been consequences. While a tweet purportedly showing that West had lost 9.2 million Twitter followers after tweeting pictures of his MAGA hat has since been disputed, several respected industry leaders have checked West for his right-wing salute. “I love that great, brilliant artists have the power to imagine a better future,” tweeted John Legend, “But artists can’t be blind to the truth.” (In a private text since made public by West, Legend also urged the artist to “reconsider” because “so many people who love you feel so betrayed right now.”) Added Janelle Monáe in an interview with Hot 97: “I believe in free thinking, but I don’t believe in free thinking if it’s rooted in, or at the expense of the oppressed.” (West wasn’t entirely without support from the music community, however: Chance the Rapper tweeted that he recently spoke with West and said he was “in a great place.”)
The relative delay of the West backlash may have something to do with his reputation for shock value and contrarian thought. We’re used to Kanye being, well, Kanye. This is a guy whose self-given nickname likens himself to Jesus — perhaps we’re right to hesitate to take what he says at face value. (His Blades of Glory skit insert on “N—as In Paris” comes to mind when attempting to describe recent tweets: “No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative!”) Kim Kardashian West defended her husband with a similar explanation: “Kanye will never run in the race of popular opinion and we know that.” West’s history of mental health struggles, which includes a hospitalization last year, may also be an excuse for some fans who don’t share his values to dismiss his tweets — despite Kim’s urging against connecting the two.
we got love pic.twitter.com/Edk0WGscp6
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
West’s efforts to clarify his Trump support haven’t clarified much. At the request of his wife, West tweeted that just because he expressed support for Trump doesn’t mean he agrees with “everything” Trump does or stands for. But since then, he’s doubled down on his love for Trump, taken a shot at former president Barack Obama, and found new fans in controversial right-wing figures. Conservative conspiracy theorist Alex Jones applauded Kanye’s “bold moves against the thought police,” and former Fox host Bill O’Reilly now hopes to shield Kanye from “American Stalinists.” Owens herself wants to meet with West, and InfoWars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson encouraged the rapper to “red pill black people.” Even Trump himself tweeted West a quick “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” If Kanye’s own tweets aren’t cause for concern to his fans, the right-wing adoption of their rap hero might be.
Now, many longtime fans are being forced to at least reconsider their allegiances one West tweet at a time. That includes media critic and longtime Kanye fan Touré, who grappled with ‘Ye’s tweets in a thoughtful essay for The Daily Beast before ultimately choosing the rapper’s side: “Our relationship may be growing complicated,” Touré concludes, “but for now, I’m sticking with my man.” Even on the long-running fan forum Kanye To The, fans are debating “What has Kanye done wrong?” and even “Former Ye stans who are you stanning now?” alongside the usual threads about new music and tour merch.
As of writing, West hasn’t done anything to suggest he’ll change his mind anytime soon: “I respect everyone’s opinion but I stand my ground” reads a recent offering, and a hinted-at interest in a 2024 presidential bid suggests this could just be the beginning. As West’s Twitter storm continues its forward hurl, the complicated reaction that unfolds may say more about all of us than about the superstar himself.