Who Cares About Kanye West?

[image via the Bygone Bereau]

Passion of the Weiss is my favorite rap blog.  Last month their host of contributors held a roundtable discussion on Kanye West’s new album.  The idol worship you’ll find at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and PopMatters is absent here.  Let’s get into it.

Floodwatch:

Kanye West and his music perfectly encapsulate everything that is fundamentally wrong with pop music and pop culture right now. It’s the reason why I occasionally gnash my teeth in my sleep, why I refuse to watch television anymore, and why my gaze never strays from my shopping cart when I’m standing in the checkout line at the market. It’s unwarranted and self-made celebrity; it’s endless, narcissistic self-isolation on a Facebook page. Its bloated, glitzy splendor is the equivalent of a gated subdivision full of vacant McMansions. It’s everything I’m trying to eliminate from my life in 2010: unnecessary noise and excess.

Jeff Weiss

For my wooden nickel, the best rap music is usually menacing and minimal. This has neither, but it succeeds because Kanye is the only person with enough vision to pull it off. As much as I enjoy this record, I’m loathe to consider the impact it will have on the next generation. […]

If this is the album that American culture deserves, it’s not what we should aspire to– no matter how tongue-in-cheek or self-aware our jokes are.

Aaron Matthews

The album is simultaneously layered and shallow. […]

But Kanye excels at excess. He makes the sprawling personal and compulsively listenable. He’s pulled the strange trick of becoming more relatable as he’s gotten more infamous. […]

Yeezy reupholstered my brain.

Doc Zeus

I’m pushing my entire stack of chips onto black at the roulette table and going to call this the finest album of his career. I’m going all in. No joke. I love this record.

Cleaning up the floor after spitting my most venomous bile on it (you happy now, Jeff?), I still find the record to be uniformly excellent.

Disco Vietnam

Kanye West is a space cadet. I can’t relate to him. It’s unfortunate because my ability to relate to him was the very reason I’d first supported him. I found his passion endearing. I admired his self-assuredness; he seemed to know how to balance it with a sense of humor. […]

To hail it as perfection is beyond foolish, reckless. When the stakes are this high the critical community has a responsibility to be more judicious with its praise. Yes, this album is important; it’s also indulgent, exhausting, ponderous, all the things we tear less fashionable albums to shreds for being. […]

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy believes itself to be perfect; it’s shallow at best and at worst contrived. […]

This album is a triumph in every conceivable way but the one that matters most: is it an effective piece of art?

Sach O

So it’s officially Kanyemania out there today. Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0, Slate’s got it as album of the year and the mainstream press seems officially content to anoint Kanye as the superstar demigod he wants to be perceived as […]

I’d been avoiding getting caught up in the hype surrounding this thing in the goal to listen to it as a whole and to see how I feel about it as a complete album. Since dude thinks he’s a world-class artist making some genius shit, I figured I’d rate him to his desired standards: harshly and mercilessly based on the full record as he conceived it.

To be honest, I was ready to tear into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but despite it’s masturbatory song-lengths, overcooked sense of self-importance and the fact that it’s made by a man who’s evolved into one of the most annoying celebrities of all time (of all time!)…This is a great album.

Douglas Martin

It’s almost like on this album, Kanye actually has enough money to cater to every impulse, and it’s not always pretty.

Though it ranks in the lower-half of Kanye’s catalog, one thing I can say about this record is that it’s the complete opposite of formulaic, which is downright heroic for a pop star. Although I agree that ambitious failures should not be placed higher in value than modest successes, I think both are commendable.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even in its flaws, shows that Kanye really cares. Every note– all two-billion of them– seem carefully considered, and you can almost hear Kanye in the background of one of those choir breakdowns saying, “This would sound DOPE if I put a didgeridoo right here!” Pop music is supposed to be formulaic, disposable. Pop stars aren’t supposed to put this music thought, this much effort, into a pop album. Or maybe it’s not and they are, and it takes a record as ambitious as this one to show everyone what pop music could be like if everybody just tried harder.

Abe Beam

This album will age.

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December 7, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Mad Men Footnotes

If you google “The Footnotes of Mad Men,” your first hit will be an abject failure in both name and execution.

Glossy out-of-context ads from the 60’s.  I’m referring to a site called Mad Men Unbuttoned that’s run by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who also runs an actual footnotes series for the awl.  It’s ok.

(By ok, I mean rarely compelling, frequently lazy, poorly executed, and shallow.  Not exactly what I expect from a footnote.)

Adam Curtis at the BBC, however, does exponentially better:

The story begins at the end of the 1950s. There were two distinct camps on Madison Avenue. And they loathed each other.

One group was led by Rosser Reeves who ran the Ted Bates agency. Reeves had invented the idea of the USP – the unique selling point. You found a phrase that summed up your product and you repeated it millions and millions of times on all media so it “penetrated” the minds of the consumers.

His favourite was Lucky Strike’s “It’s Toasted” […]

The other camp were known as “the depth boys”. They believed the opposite. That you penetrated the consumer’s mind by using all sorts of subtle psychological techniques to find out what they really wanted. These were feelings the consumer often didn’t even consciously realise themselves.It was called ‘Motivational Research’.

One of the leading “depth boys” was the wonderfully named Norman B. Norman who ran the Norman Craig & Kummel agency. […]

Behind the techniques of people like Norman were a group of Viennese and German psychologists and psychoanalysts who had come to America as refugees in the 1930s.

One of the most important and influential was one of the few women high up in the Madison Avenue of that time. Dr Herta Herzog. […]

In the first episode of the first series of Mad Men, Dr Herzog is parodied. “Dr Greta Guttman” comes in to tell Don Draper that because of growing evidence of the link between lung cancer and smoking the only way to sell Lucky Strike cigarettes is to link them to the Death Wish.

In the scene Mad Men is dramatising, the war that was going on in Madison Avenue. Draper is obviously modelled on Rosser Reeves who hated the psychologists. In the scene Draper is rude and hostile to Dr Guttman and drops her research in the bin.

Later in the episode Draper invents the slogan – “It’s Toasted” for Lucky Strike. It was Rosser Reeve’s favourite USP.

See why I like this better than some generic tarted up review?  It reads like an actual series of footnotes and it deepens our understanding of the show and the time it depicts.  Past is prelude, so in turn, our understanding of our own time is deepened as well.  After reading this, AMC’s Mad Men seems to serve this little BBC article more than any other article has ever seemed to serve the show.

Interesting footnote about the source: BBC has a proprietary embedded video player just like everyone else and it has an adjustable volume knob also just like everybody else’s.  Only theirs goes up to eleven.

[Adam Curtis @ BBC via the Browser]

[image via Rolling Stone]

September 7, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.