The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
You know that saying, “never meet your idols?” Well, it exists for a reason. And with social media now making celebrities so accessible, you could argue that the phrase should be extended to “don’t idolize anyone.”
Being a fan of something or someone is natural. I’ve been obsessed with countless celebrities through the years. But when you put your faith in a public figure, there’s a high chance they’ll let you down. For many fans, that celebrity was Kanye West, who last week doubled down on his 2016 support of Donald Trump and praised the right-wing commentator Candace Owens. Much to the dismay of his mainly liberal fanbase.
As The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery pointed out on Twitter, most of our political expectations around West come from one incident: when he declared George Bush didn’t care about black people, during a live TV appearance raising funds for Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina wasn’t West’s only left-wing political moment, in both his music and personal life West has rallied against racism and inequality. But, as Lowery concludes, West’s current outburst “is a reminder why it’s a mistake to project layman’s politics onto celebrity millionaires, even when sometimes they say the right things.”
And it’s not just West who is well equipped to let us down. The #MeToo movement has shattered the constructed facades of many stars including Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K. and Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon.
The question of whether you can separate art from the artist is another article in itself, and West’s tweets in no way are on the same level as an accusation of sexual misconduct. But they are part of countless examples of celebrities failing to live up to fans’ moral expectations.
Idolizing a celebrity is, at its core, projecting an image on to someone. We may feel we know someone through their work or their social media accounts, but at the end of the day, these people are strangers even if they might feel close.
This isn’t to say that fandom isn’t an extremely valuable aspect of popular culture, especially for teenagers. When you’re young and alone, finding an artist and a group of fellow fans who either reflect who you are or who you want to be can be an extremely life-affirming thing. But what happens when the artist driving said fandom lets you down?
This conversation intersects with the question of how much artists owe us — something that was discussed when fans were anxiously awaiting Frank Ocean’s Blonde. We tend to get wrapped up in being fans and forget that the celebrity in question is an individual whose personal thoughts may diverge from their public image.
Kanye West recently tweeted: “Whenever someone mentions the word ‘fan’ to me it’s super manipulative. It’s like ‘don’t do or say this because of your fans’ My fans are fans of themselves.” A real-life example of this came shortly after when West tweeted a text from John Legend, who pleaded with the star not to align himself with Trump. Legend wrote: “As you know what you say really means something to your fans. They are loyal to you and respect your opinion.”
Being a role model is a heavy burden, and often one that was never asked for. It’s also a position that a lot of celebrities simply aren’t fit for. Kanye West’s recently shared political views are incredibly disappointing to many and they deserve to be critically analyzed. Ultimately, however, we can’t control what stars do — but we can control how we relate to them.
We shouldn’t deify celebrities because the image we have of them is almost always a work of fiction, whether it’s one we created ourselves or the work of a slick marketing strategy. It’s not Kanye West who has let you down, but your own perception of who he is.
There’s no set way to act when something like West’s Twitter storm emerges — maybe you stop listening to their music entirely, or choose to separate the art from the artist. However you choose to react, stepping back from this idealized version of celebrity is a good place to start.
In related news, Donald Trump’s campaign is using Kanye West to sell MAGA hats.