I was sitting in a hotel lobby in San Sebastián, Spain, in May 2014, chatting with a Muslim girl. We were part of a study abroad program with the University of Calgary and, as the only two outspoken religious devotees on the trip, we’d struck up a fast friendship.
That night, our conversation turned to Kanye West, an artist I adored and she didn’t understand. A year earlier, Kanye had released his sixth album, Yeezus, which featured very problematic lyrics – blatant misogyny, cringe-worthy conflations of civil rights symbolism and aggressive sex acts, and a borderline blasphemous title. She wanted to know how I, a devout Christian, could love the art of a man that proclaimed on the track I Am a God, that he was, well, a god. She questioned why that didn’t offend my religious sensibilities. I don’t remember what I said, but I defended him, and possibly even convinced her of my point of view.
I’ve long been a Kanye West apologist. I think his run of albums from The College Dropout to Yeezus is among the greatest in music history. I think his 2016 song Ultralight Beam is a strong contender for the best song of this decade. I think he’s an exhilarating live performer. I even have a custom coffee mug in my cupboard and a watercolor painting on my wall, both bearing his face.
Kanye West is a lightning rod for controversy, whether it’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” in 2005 or the Taylor Swift debacle in 2010. He’s often accused of arrogance, which is probably true. He’s also accused of being crazy, which is dismissive and unfair.
This year, it’s been especially difficult to defend Kanye, and I’m reaching a breaking point. Maybe it’s that his latest album, Ye, released earlier this year, isn’t very interesting or good. Maybe it’s that his actions – questionable political stances, egregious comments about slavery being a choice – have shown me his positions are indefensible. I’m not totally sure what, specifically, has done it, but I find myself less inclined to argue on his behalf.
During a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Kanye was asked if his attitude towards women had changed since having daughters.
“Nah, I still look at PornHub,” Kanye responded, a grin on his face. It was gross. I shrugged.
It’s tough falling out of love with an artist you valued. I don’t think I’ll ever not care about Kanye West – the strength of his first six albums has solidified him as one of my favourite musicians. Even watching the Kimmel interview, I found him incredibly intriguing. But, going forward, I doubt I’ll be convincing people to see him my way. My defense rests.