The Rise and Fall of Kanye West

An opinion piece by Maddie Balcombe

Kanye West: one of the most well-known names in our celebrity landscape today, and simultaneously one of the most controversial. From humiliating Taylor Swift during her first VMA win back in 2009, to making outrageous claims about societal issues (such as when he suggested that African-American slavery was a choice), his audacious actions have often divided opinion between music critics, hardcore fans, and the general public alike. Some people have jumped to defend Kanye West in the past, calling him a ‘visionary’, ‘the greatest of all time’, and ‘unafraid’ to speak his mind. However, most have been quick to condemn the rapper as ‘messed up’, ‘abusive’ and ‘horrifying’. Despite his divisive nature, Kanye West still has a platform, and still has the means to make his voice heard. However, has he finally gone too far?

In 2014, Kanye West married Kim Kardashian in a fairytale-esque Italian wedding. The pair were considered a power-couple for many years, paving the way for new celebrity couples entering the landscape. So, it came as a shock to us all when Kim Kardashian filed for divorce in January 2021. What has followed, however, has been even more shocking than the news that KimYe were separating. Since the divorce, Kanye West has launched a series of public attacks on Kim, the wider Kardashian family, and Kim’s new boyfriend Pete Davidson. These attacks, much like Kanye’s other outbursts, have split opinion in the public sphere, yet they have also led to some extremely important conversations about the normalisation of toxic behaviour within celebrity relationships. In many ways, it seems as though Kanye West’s recent actions have now been dismissed and brushed off as another stint of A-list drama. However, what we can sometimes fail to remember is that Kim and Kanye are still people, and that actions such as Kanye’s can have real repercussions for those directly involved, and those observing them online.

Kanye West’s attacks towards Kim Kardashian and those around her happened very publicly, materialising themselves through now deleted Instagram posts. West made accusations about not having full custody of his children, he leaked private messages between him and Kim, and made some shocking statements about Pete Davidson, whom he chose to nickname ‘Skete’. Beyond social media, Kanye sent Kim a truckload full of flowers on Valentine’s Day, stating that his vision to win her back is ‘Krystal Klear,’ and in his latest music video, West included a graphic depiction of Pete Davidson’s decapitated head. Going through a divorce will never be easy, and doing it so publicly will of course come with its own array of problems. In fact, Kim Kardashian, who has lived most of her life in the public eye, has stated on numerous occasions that she wants to keep their divorce as private as possible for the protection of herself and her children. However, Kanye West has continually disobeyed this wish, leading us to question his behaviour.

Flowers sent from Kanye West to Kim Kardashian. Image from TMZ

There is no doubt that Kanye West’s public response to his divorce with Kim has been deeply toxic. Kanye West is a celebrity who, so far in his career, has been untouchable. There are many people out there who dislike the rapper, yet his career has still survived and flourished in the face of many controversies. So, despite publicly attacking Kim, Kanye will remain untouched. He is surrounded by an entourage of supportive fans and, so-far in his career, has faced little consequences for his actions. Kanye has said that he is fighting for his marriage through these posts. However, he seems to actually be controlling, provoking and harassing Kim online, not working to save a marriage that has already died. The actions he has displayed have created a false narrative around the realities of their divorce, leaving Kim and everyone around her in a place of real danger and vulnerability. However, it seems as though many people have failed to realise the gravity of Kanye West’s outbursts.

In our society today, toxicity within relationships is normalised – and sometimes even glamorised – to an unhealthy extent. Through romanticising this kind of behaviour, people like Kanye West get let ‘off-the-hook’. His outbursts have been made into memes, his actions have been dismissed as a joke, and many fans and celebrities have teamed up with West, enabling his violent behaviour to spiral out of control. In contrast, when Kim has spoken publicly on the divorce, she has done so with dignity and respect. For instance, in a recent episode of Hulu series The Kardashians, Kim admitted that ‘there is so much love’ between her and West, and that she will always support him for the sake of their children. Furthermore, even in her statements of retaliation, Kim has never publicly defaced Kanye’s reputation. Instead, she has hoped for the privacy and respect that she has shown Kanye to be reciprocated.

It is clear that Kanye’s behaviour is toxic and inexcusable, however it is important to consider the context surrounding his outbursts. In 2020, after Kanye West decided that he wanted to run for President, Kim took to social media to speak out on Kanye’s mental health issues and the affects that this has on their family and relationship. In her statement, Kim revealed that Kanye West has bipolar disorder, and she asked for ‘compassion and empathy’ towards Kanye and his wellbeing. This statement from Kim was the first time that fans had heard clearly about Kanye’s mental health, so we must consider the role that mental health has played in Kanye’s reaction to his divorce. As Kim wished two years ago, we can treat Kanye with compassion, yet we can simultaneously still hold him accountable for his actions.

Kanye’s mental health struggles do not excuse his behaviour, nor does it give him a ‘free pass’ to endanger his ex-wife, children, or anyone else for that matter. However, in understanding West’s mental state, we can allow him space to process his feelings, and time to rectify his behaviour, which is exactly what he has done. Shortly after leaking more private text messages, Kanye apologised to Kim. He stated: ‘I’m working on my communication… I take accountability. I’m still learning in real time.’ It seems as though Kanye is learning something valuable too, as since this apology the Instagram posts have subsided and the public attacks have stopped. As an audience, when drama like this unfolds in front of our eyes, it can be easy to judge and jump to conclusions. However, by considering the effects of mental health, we can provide time and compassion towards him. This is not to say that Kanye’s mental health struggles excuses his behaviour, however it is definitely beneficial to bear his struggles in mind. Moreover, whilst Kanye is evidently working on himself and the processing of his emotions, as an audience we still have a responsibility to hold him accountable for his behaviour.

The drama surrounding Kim and Kanye’s divorce has taught us a lot. Firstly, it has served as a reminder that, despite their prominence in the public eye, Kim and Kanye are people too. We do not know the intricate details of their relationship, and we are not entitled to. They deserve privacy, respect and time to deal with the turbulence and emotions that come with divorce. Secondly, it has sparked an important conversation about the glamorisation of toxic behaviours in our society today. Over the years, Kanye has developed an unbothered and obnoxious persona, and his behaviour seems to have been excused and memeified due to his character and the normalisation of this harmful behaviour. Thirdly, it has reminded us of the importance of context in these situations, proving in many ways that compassion and accountability can go hand in hand.

Featured image from hypebae.com