Why Beck and Kanye West Will Probably Collaborate Now
Kanye West knows exactly what he’s doing even when he clearly has no idea what he’s doing.
It’s not that he’s infallible. It’s that it just doesn’t matter. Since he emerged from Atlanta in 2004, West has transcended hip-hop and celebrity to the point that he’s almost fictional – he’s an idea; a conceptual depiction of an egomaniacal, self-appointed musical messiah. As a narrative construct, he’s a necessary antagonist in the storyline of 21st century pop culture.
Like it or not, you’ve got to wonder: Would the world still be talking about the Grammys had West not stolen Beck’s moment? Would the vast majority of casual music listeners even known Beck won Album of the Year otherwise? Music needs Kanye West the way radio needs Howard Stern, the way He-Man needs Skeletor and the way teenage girls need all other teenage girls. Somebody has to create conflict. West gets away with it for two reasons: 1) He’s close enough to a legitimate musical genius to remain relevant and; 2) We love having someone to hate (possibly even more than having someone to love).
Kanye West is the same man who turned almost dying in a 2002 car accident into his worldwide breakthrough single.
That's why nobody should be shocked when West inevitably collaborates with Beck sometime in the future -- probably sooner than later. Because the only thing West possesses more than natural music talent is inherent marketing savvy. After all, this is the same man who turned almost dying in a 2002 car accident into his worldwide breakthrough single by rapping with his jaw wired shut. All of this week's melodrama also originated with West almost making Taylor Swift cry during one of her speeches at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, and he just revealed the odd couple will be working together on new music.
When West stormed onstage during Beck's acceptance speech, it had little to do with Beck and everything to do with creating another quasi-historical, internet-breaking moment. The entire thing came off as playful when it happened and West was obviously only making fun of himself. When you're as famous as he is and lugging Kim Kardashian everywhere you go, it's probably easy to forget the Grammys aren't your own personal prom. You can see his faux tantrum wasn't really about Beck at all (along with Jay Z's five-second emotional roller coaster ride) in this footage:
West didn't say anything negative about Beck until an interview after the show, and even then, his frustration was mostly with the Grammys and their sometimes questionable choices. He said Beck needs to "respect artistry," but he later clarified that he meant he thought the singer-songwriter should've thanked the other nominees (namely Beyonce) in his speech. Do you think West had actually listened to Beck's album? He would've probably still jumped onstage if either Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith won instead.
While doing damage control, West had nothing but praise for Beck. He told Ryan Seacrest (via Mashable), “Beck is one of the nicest guys and one of the most respected musicians in the game. So, there’s nothing that I want to do as a fellow musician to disrespect him in any way.” He also said, "We’ll still go play basketball and stuff [unless] he doesn’t want to."
But Beck will almost assuredly want to. (Who aside from maybe George W. Bush wouldn't?) Although he was initially taken aback by the site of an angry West stomping toward him, he seemed mildly disappointed when Yeezy returned to his seat. After the show, Beck told US Weekly, "I was just so excited he was coming up. He deserves to be onstage as much as anybody. How many great records has he put out in the last five years, right?” Beck also said, “I still love him and think he’s genius. I aspire to do what he does.”
But the pair aren't actually so different. Both are essentially self-made superstars who ascended through their respective scenes by fearlessly following their own musical whims and breaking genre conventions. Although Beck won this Grammy for the largely acoustic and straightforward Morning Phase, he's made a career out of routinely bouncing back and forth between glitchy, sample-heavy party anthems (1995's Odelay) and earnest, relatively traditional indie-folk (2002's Sea Change). After Morning Phase, it would actually be smart to expect the unexpected from Beck -- and some sort of collaboration with Kanye West (or possibly Pharrell) would likely fall into that category. Remember, he's still the same guy who makes tracks and videos like this:
West is also obviously open to unlikely collaborations. Not only did he just record a bunch of songs with Paul McCartney, he also revealed his plans to team up with Swift because he's “down to get in the studio and work ... I don’t discriminate, I don’t have an elitism of music."
Considering how much he'll likely have to stretch to create something listenable with Swift, a potential track with the relatively likeminded Beck should be a breeze. More than that, however, it would provide a natural happy ending for the tale that West knows he's just set up. Working with Beck would be like LeBron James choosing to return to Cleveland -- why remain the bad guy when redemption is just a phone call away? It would not only provide veracity to much of what West has said in the aftermath of the Grammys, but it would also satisfy the public demand for a song or album he unintentionally (or intentionally) just created.
Of course, we shouldn't push for it too much. The only thing that would really stop West from working with Beck is if it seems like the overwhelmingly rational thing to do.