I hadn’t posted this here, but since Other Scott brought it up …
Pitchfork and Rolling Stone have both declared Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the best album of 2010, but if you read those reviews, you’ll note that both of them avoid talking about the core appeal of the album, choosing instead to prattle on about his talents as a producer (which are myriad) or his public persona (which is outrageous) or about a line or two that seems excessive (of which there are many). That the album contains some of the catchiest cuts West has ever produced is merely a sign of his continued development as a musician and his increased confidence as a producer: he’ll plink three notes on a piano and loop a “LOOK AT YOU!” because he needs no more than three and is confident enough to speak over the shouting. But that’s not why the album appeals:
You can ignore all the lyrics of “Runaway” about toasting assholes that will, in fact, be toasted by actual assholes who think themselves worthy of a toast, because the only lyric in that song that matters follows them: “Run away fast as you can.” The infectiousness of the song belies how deeply it hates itself: this is a song about a man imploring someone to flee from his own persona. (And by man I mean Kanye West and persona “Kanye West.”) The entire album consists of braggadocio trying and failing to paper over some fairly large holes in a person. It’s the lyrical equivalent of trying to use Saran Wrap to drywall a house—not only does it fail spectacularly, but everyone can see right through it.
And that’s the album’s core appeal: voyeurism. In the wake of his mother’s death, West has had numerous public breakdowns. Events and emotions which would (and perhaps should) have remained private instead played themselves on a 24-hour cycle of a stage and West wasn’t ever comfortable playing the part. It’s almost as if he’s comfortable with the idea of playing a part until the moment the spotlight falls on him, at which point no amount of borrowed gamesmanship can make up for the fact that he is a wound as yet unready for the stage. And it’s this quality that pervades the album—the fear of failure performed as songs that consistently undermine their narrator’s persona.
That undermining—the call to “run away” from the person West is perceived to have become—makes his lyrics feel like a transcript from an early (and generally successful) therapy session, and given Americans’ deep and abiding love for privacy, it’s no wonder the album’s reached the critical heights it has. I just wish critics would stop writing around the issue and admit that their desire to peer inside the mind of celebrity is no less salacious than that of the “average” listener, whomever they imagine him or her to be.