Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Transendence of Kanye West

What is a rock star today? For that matter, what is a pop star? Ask this question twenty-five years ago and nobody would blink. Michael Jackson. David lee Roth, or another, less good, hair band star. But today? That question seems much harder to answer, especially from someone who spends as much time devoting their life to pop culture as I do. The closest we have to a bona fide pop star is Justin Timberlake. By pop star, I mean a person who makes music that the general public can get into and is for the most part non-controversial and successful. Generally, pop stars are also somewhat critically acceptable, which Timberlake achieved with “LoveSounds.” However, who is today’s big rock star? In the past rock stars have been full of braggadocio; have been controversial; loved by the youth, distrusted by the old; plus they have always spoken their mind. Oh and they make “rock n’ roll” music. By these terms who is today’s rock star? They biggest selling rock albums of this decade have been made by: Linkin Park, 3 Doors Down, Limp Bizkit, Creed, Evanesence, and Staind. Are any of these people really today’s rock stars? Maybe the fact that they all suck balls is the reason I don’t think so, but that can’t be it. According to Wikipedia, Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” sold 24 million copies. I was in the Seventh grade at this time, prime time to either: a) enjoy Linkin Park ~or~ b) lay moribund in their ever-presence. However, I do not remember any Linkin Park ubiquity. So, I nominate a non rock artist for today's rock star.

I firmly believe that Kanye West is the closest thing that our generation has to a legitimate rock star. All of the necessary qualities are there except for the genre of music he makes. However, even that line is slowly blurring. I have seen Kanye West perform twice this summer, once at Glow in the Dark in Auburn Hills, and the other at Lollapalooza. I had two entirely different experiences at these shows, or at least that is how I remember it. At GitD, we paid $90 for tickets and were about a mile away it seemed. I could barely even see Kanye, so combine that with what I paid, things were in trouble from the get go. I still thoroughly enjoyed the show, the visuals were spectacular and Kanye put on a hell of a performance. But I couldn’t help but feel disconnected. It didn’t feel like the biggest event ever. His set at Lollapalooza did

This time I was in the third row and as soon as his band, in their SWAT Team gear came on stage I could tell something was different. Never had I seen, in person or on screen, an individual pour so much into a single performance. This was Kanye the rockstar performing. A man who knew what stage he was on. If he hadn’t seen Radiohead here two nights prior, he had at least heard about it. Knew that he needed to put his heart and soul into it, which was probably easier because he was in the city which was part of his heart and soul. Kanye knew where he was at. He knew this was, for the most part, a rock festival and he performed like it was. There was no DJ, there was a band. He brought out no guests like his Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy (but he did his verse from “Put On,” and there was no Big Brother. Why should he? The schedule said “Kanye West” not “Kanye West and Special Guest.” Plus, why should their be, rock stars don’t need help putting on an amazing show. Radiohead didn’t bring out anyone. This was about Kanye affirming himself at the top of everyone’s list. Why else would he compare himself to Jimi Hendrix and James Brown? These were two men who were more than just stars in their respective fields, they transcended genre lines. And with his set on Sunday at Lollapalooza, that is what Kanye West did. He truly became a rock star.

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