It’s true: Kanye is gonna Kanye.
So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that at Sunday night’s E! Grammy after-party, Kanye West told an interviewer—who just happened to be his sister-in-law Khloe Kardashian—that if the Grammys “want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more,” adding that Album of the Year winner “Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.”
For what it’s worth, I’m a fan of Beck’s and Beyoncé’s music, and I really can’t call it on who should have rated Album of the Year. Beck even self-deprecatingly remarked that he, too, thought it should have been her.
But there’s a difference between second-guessing the Grammy committee—which is, I think, part of the fun of watching the Grammys—and West’s going out of his way to call out Beck, one of his music-industry peers. That seems ungenerous, at best, and borderline megalomaniacal at worst. Which is why I diverge from Grantland’s Rembert Browne in his forensic breakdown of Ye’s latest tirade.
To be clear, if you were going to analyze West’s rant, no one could offer a more robust defense than Browne’s, which thoroughly unpacked both the nature of the Grammys’ serial failings and the interrelationship between West’s temperament and his genius.
The only problem is that the defense ultimately rests on the idea that West, like everyone else, is entitled to express his opinion.
Of course he is.
Browne argues, though, that the objection to West’s comments “comes back to an idea of Kanye West not being proper, about his lacking a certain respectability” that doesn’t take into account the fact that West has “rejected a scripted existence.” That like the late comedian Bernie Mac, who was willing to mine the humor in uncomfortable truths, West habitually line-steps as a way of saying what “everyone else was thinking, but were unwilling to say” and that he passionately “wants the people he respects to get respect.”
It’s just that what makes West’s jeremiad so tiresome isn’t the fact that he’s allowing himself to go unfiltered. It’s tiresome because West feels entitled to suggest that another artist—one who, presumably, has never done anything to him—should give up a Grammy that he won, in a contest that everyone involved already tacitly admits is doled out on a somewhat arbitrary basis.
In an award competition, by the way, in which West, himself, has been named a winner 21 times.
The unseemliness comes not from some arcane sense of respectability but because he’s a multimillionaire—whose musical genius has been repeatedly recognized—who’s worked himself up into a froth of righteous indignation, without any apparent irony, about Beyoncé—a multimillionaire who’s universally regarded as the queen of the pop-culture universe—not getting a trophy at the end of a stale awards ceremony in which they both performed and sat in front-row seats.
Never mind the fact that in both cases where West has simpered aloud about someone not deserving an award (there was, of course, his infamous stage-crash during Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMA acceptance speech), he’s done it in “defense” of Beyoncé. This could just be a coincidence, or it could mean that he’s got his nose a bit too open when it comes to his buddy Jay Z’s wife.
And let’s face it. If there were an award ceremony that recognized—let’s say—people who were famous for no particular reason, I doubt West would argue that his wife, Kim Kardashian, owed any residual props to Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie for pioneering the genre.
If what he's really trying to say is that black musicians are relegated to Grammy categories like R&B and hip-hop and frequently snubbed in categories like Album of the Year—and that until that situation changes, he’s mailing all his Grammys back and boycotting the ceremony altogether—that would fall into the category of speaking an uncomfortable truth to power. Until that happens, he’s really just showing out.
West is everything he says he is: “the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation” and modern-day “Shakespeare in the flesh” rolled into one. I like his music and, I confess, I’m entertained by his antics. Kanye does, and always will do, Kanye.
But he also acted a complete ass Sunday—and sometimes acting an ass is just acting an ass. That’s an uncomfortable truth that there’s just no getting around.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.