Leave it to Kanye West to commend himself for having enough sense to do an aboutface inches away from the microphone on the Grammy Awards stage where Beck stood about to accept album of the year honors.
“That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight, but you all know what it meant when Ye walked out on that stage!” he declared in a post-show press conference, just in case anyone didn’t understand that he insulted Beck on national television.
What West doesn’t seem to understand is what he did Sunday night was appalling. He owes an apology to Beck and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which should censure him for his disgraceful stunt.
That doesn’t mean what West did wasn’t funny, even clever in the meta way it referenced his own previous shenanigans, when he went so far as to interrupt Taylor Swift at the 2009 Video Music Awards. But the message he sent then, which was not in jest, was the same he sent now: West wanted the world to know he felt the winner wasn’t worthy.
“Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should’ve given his award to Beyonce,” West declared. Though he later clarified he felt it was the Grammys that need to “respect artistry,” it’s ridiculous that he doesn’t see he’s the one who showed incredible disrespect in front of everyone at Staples Center and in the viewing audience.
In some odd way, because what he did at the VMAs was even worse than his half-invasion of Beck at the Grammys, West may seem almost deserving of a compliment for stopping short of the microphone. But it’s worth considering what the reaction to Sunday’s hijinks would have been had this been his first offense, or if instead of a white male like Beck, he had ambushed a female artist.
Lighten up, West fans, will say. It’s just a joke. It’s just an awards show. That’s just Yeezy being Yeezy.
But imagine being Beck. You just won the biggest honor of your entire career for a work of artistry you take seriously, and a fellow artist decides to take your shining moment as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that you don’t deserve it?
But Beck isn’t the only person West insulted. In awarding Beck, the Grammy voters had spoken en masse. What right does West have to appropriate the forum they’ve chosen to give the award as a soapbox to declare his dissent?
To his credit, Beck played it off goodnaturedly in the moment by inviting West jokingly to stay onstage. And though in his own post-show comments he’s made clear he bears no grudge against West, you have to wonder how he really feels in hindsight given the brazen insult West not only publicly paid him but then made sure to clarify in comments after the show.
Had West reserved his feelings about Beck winning to the post-show press conference or Twitter, there would be nothing wrong with that. There’s a healthy debate artists enjoy every year after the Grammys about the worthiness or lack thereof of this winner or that, and that’s fine.
But the place and time for that is not on camera while the artist is winning. While CBS could hardly be blamed for airing the moment, it would have been great had the network made the decision to not show such Grammy grandstanding, like NBC’s smart move not to air Doug Baldwin’s toilet-themed touchdown dance at the Super Bowl the previous week.
Maybe West’s behavior would be acceptable if there was some kind of ideological justification to opposing Beck’s work, but there wasn’t any. Beck isn’t George W. Bush, whom West bravely implied was racist on TV in 2005 during a Hurricane Katrina telethon.
Would West think it funny had Beck walked onstage while he was performing earlier in the show and held his nose or gave a thumbs down? Lord knows that the next time West wins an award he’s just begging for a little karma. Maybe his fellow artists should run onstage before he gets there and link arms to blockade his path to the microphone.
But where’s the outrage? At the very least, it would be good to see some of West’s fellow artists speak out against him if NARAS doesn’t plan to go there. Because what happened to Beck today could just as easily happen to them tomorrow.
Maybe next time it won’t even be West that delivers the insult. Perhaps he’ll embolden another artist to up the ante next time and try an even more offensive stunt. There’s a slippery slope here that’s getting greased by the silence of the artistic community. This is not just about the West incident itself but the precedent it could set.
Most galling of all, West depicted his actions Sunday as some kind of admirable self-restraint he demonstrated on behalf of his child. “I’m not gonna do nothing to put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity,” he noted at the post-show show press conference.
Don’t delude yourself, Kanye. If you’re so worried about your daughter, think about the example you just set for her.