In September of my sophomore year of college, I had the chance to see Kanye West perform at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Ecstatic with the tickets I’d gotten as a gift, I would finally get to see chi-town’s very own eccentric egotist take the stage, and perform “Life of Pablo” for a nearly sold out arena.
However, watching the show, something was off. Behind the immaculate instrumentals and booming speakers, the floating stage and incredible light show, there was clearly a tortured artist. Forty-five seconds into a song, he would scream into the mic “stop, stop, stop!” prompting the sound to be cut. He would lecture and opine for five minutes about topics ranging from the state of the music industry, to what inspired him to make music.
At one point, he spoke for twenty minutes straight, his thoughts so disorganized that I could hardly follow what he was saying. The mumbling in the Verizon center went from a low mumble to conversation level as Ye’ continued incoherently. He performed one or two more songs, then signaled that he wanted to leave the stage. As the floating stage returned to the other end of the arena, he looked into the crowd and said something that I’ll never forget. “Thank you, DC. I needed this tonight.” There was no doubt that he was going through something.
As the Saint Pablo tour continued in cities across the world, similar reports emerged. However, it all came to a head in Sacramento, when he went on for 15 minutes about fearing for his life, his anger at “radio”, and his disappointment with the media. “Don’t send your killers after me, Jay-Z”, he pleaded.
Two days later, he was hospitalized in Los Angeles for “temporary psychosis”, induced by exhaustion.
Witnessing the apparent mental breakdown of Kanye West has been rare, peculiar, and saddening. A man who seemed untouchable at points, made brash statements unapologetically, and released hit after hit in the early 2000’s, has been humbled by his own mental chemistry, rendered psychotic and handicapped for a short time.
The tragedy of this episode is that something that deserves the utmost privacy has been shunted to the forefront on gossip websites and tabloids, and has found its way onto the trending section of our newsfeeds. Nobody doesn’t know.
During Kanye’s hospitalization, reports came out that he was extremely paranoid, and feared that the doctors were out to get him. Media outlets began opining on the consequences the episode might have on Kanye’s marriage to Kim Kardashian, even suggesting that she had begun having an affair with professional football player Marquette King.
However, one thing is certain.
If we care anything about Kanye West, and entertainers like him, then there must be a change in how we allow our culture and media to portray him.
Witnessing Kanye’s breakdown is oddly reminiscent of Britney Spear’s 2007 episode. During a bizarre series of events in which she shaved her head bald at an L.A. salon, she then admitted herself into a rehabilitation facility in order to get her life in order. Since then, she’s released work and done shows. But, she’s been very good at avoiding the spotlight at any cost. After the world watched her shave her head then proceeded to post share pictures like wildfire, she seemingly engaged in a game of hide and seek, in which access to her became nearly impossible to obtain. Similar patterns of behavior have been observed in people who have had their downward spirals go public in the worst way possible. Consider other such stars, like Amanda Bynes, or Macauley Culkin, or Justin Beiber, who urinated in public, hit fans, and then made his own retreat away from the media.
In this day and age, we have unprecedented access to our celebrities, but forget one thing; they too, are human. We have the ability to peer into aspects of their lives that we might never have been able to in the past. Wherever they go, cameras are sure to appear, and analysis sure to follow. But, we seemingly begin to forget that they aren’t spectacles merely here to provide entertainment, and that they long for the basic human condition of privacy.
Though Kanye might be doing better, having the world witness his spectacular unwinding is, for lack of a better word, embarrassing. The tragedy is that there’s a potential that we might never have our old Kanye back because of it, due to an established resentment of the pop culture that once made him, then pointed and watched him break.