kanye west & beck  (grammys)

*You have to wonder who anointed Kanye West arbiter of who wins what at pop music awards. Clearly he believes somebody did, even if it’s just the voices in his head.

In any case, West’s actions at this year’s Grammys — walking up onstage while singer/songwriter Beck was accepting his Album of the Year trophy as if he were going to take the award from him, and later going on a tirade about how Beck should give his award to Beyonce— were rude, selfish, invasive and classless.

Imagine doing whatever you have do to create something that makes you eligible for a particular prized citation. Imagine going on to win said honor—and then having the moment of your glory forever marred by a misguided, self-centered young man who thinks it okay to make an ass of himself during your moment in the sun.

If anyone  did this to West, it would be world war III.

However, because of West, Beck–his family, friends and fans–will always remember one of the crowning achievements of his musical career as the occasion on which Kanye West interrupted the joy with his unwarranted foolishness.

Many music fans may recall he did the same thing to Taylor Swift in 2009 at the Video Music Awards, again on behalf of Beyonce (interesting how he doesn’t step to someone he thinks might clean his clock).   That carrying on got him branded a “jack ass” by none other than President Obama.

As if pissing on Beck’s campfire onstage wasn’t intrusive enough, West, speaking with the E! channel at a Grammy after party, expounded on his earlier actions. “Beck needs to respect artistry,” he said, “and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.”

For his part, Beck was the complete gentleman,  calling West a genius and practically apologizing for winning the Grammy.  All of which made Kanye look even more ridiculous.

West also had an exhortation for the Grammy organization: “If they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t going to play with them no more.

“At this point,” he continued, “we tired of it. What happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.”

Imagine that—a guy who just stepped on another artist’s Grammy moment wants to speak of (dis)respect.   And as far as I could see and hear, West was the only one onstage the whole evening whose “singing” employed enough auto-tune to make iPhone’s Siri cringe. Yet he’s speaking on people “diminishing” art.

Everyone has an opinion about who should win anything. During awards season, we all have our favorites. But for every category, only one name is called. Where the Grammys are concerned, those qualified to do so vote on who and what they like.

Often, they  are not voting on how many copies a recording sold or how big the star is; they’re voting according to other factors, including personal taste. And of course, those of us who cover the music industry or who are in it directly, understand that politics often play a major role in outcomes.

Here’s a concept, Kanye–simply don’t attend the Grammys.  Woody Allen is nominated for Oscars all the time, has won four and he never attends.  No one will miss you, especially those artists whose nominations haven’t  first been approved  by you.

West no doubt would have had a stroke were he around in 1978, when British singer Leo Sayer’s ultra poppy “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” won the Grammy for “Best R&B Song” over only one of the funkiest songs of all time, the Commodores’ “Brick House.” Admittedly, we were all in shock.

Likewise, he’d probably  be driven to murder had he been Ray Parker, Jr., who insists he actually wrote the Leo Sayer song but had it ripped off him and received no credit, royalties or subsequently, that Grammy.

Marvin Gaye, one of the most influential artists of modern music, never won a single Grammy—not even for his seminal 1971 album masterpiece, What’s Going On–until 1983, when his single, “Sexual Healing,” won for “Best R&B Song.”

No one is saying you have to accept what you view as inequities. But there are constructive ways of tackling them. Michael Jackson was bitterly disappointed when his 1979 album Off The Wall won only one Grammy (remarkably, his first )–Best Male R&B Vocal for the track, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” His revenge was to create an album (again with Quincy Jones) that could not be denied–Thriller, which won a record-breaking eight Grammys, including Album of the Year.

West wasn’t around in those days, so perhaps he feels he has reason to expect more.   But in any era, every nominee who doesn’t win is disappointed. The difference is, most don’t blame the artist who did win. At least not publicly. It’s ugly, grasping behavior. Moreover, it suggests a vast insecurity on the part of an artist regarding  their own work.

Kanye, who has won some 21 Grammys in his career, was complaining on behalf of Beyonce (who won three Grammys the other night). However, Grade-A narcissist that West is, he usually manages to make any issue about him.

What is remarkable about West’s bluster is that the people he ultimately tends to blame for holding him back the most—white establishment—are the very people from whom he seeks acceptance. Indeed, Kanye is one of those black people who, no matter what he says, believes the white man’s ice cubes are colder. He made much ado about the reluctance of big European luxury goods and fashion houses to embrace his designs or partner with him–even though he   has more than enough money to finance his own products and a fan base to support them.

Earlier in the Grammy show, West stood in a singular spotlight and performed “Only One,” a solemn, alternately heartwarming and heart breaking tribute to his baby daughter, North, written (with Paul McCartney) from the perspective of his late mother, Dr. Donda West. The guy who so convincingly delivered that song then sought to rob a fellow artist of their own spotlight.   It wasn’t cool.

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Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]