Commentary: The Birthday Party is an American Tragedy
Immature, intolerant, and incomplete: The Birthday Party may be America’s downfall, or just another step on the path to equality.
When Kayne West stated that he was going to run for President in 2020 in a cryptic tweet, I thought that it was just another publicity stunt. Still, I diligently analysed every word, combing through for any hint about his policy platform. ‘[T]rusting God’? Perhaps he’s running on a religious fundamentalist platform. ‘[U]nifying our vision’? Proposing an end to the bi-partisan system, perhaps. ‘[B]uilding our future’? The usual buzzwords around education, or is Ye considering trying to cause a tech industry boom? Or perhaps it’s an allusion to environmentalism, aiming to plant more trees.
All of these speculations were just playful application of usual campaign reading, only trying to make sense of a maddeningly senseless tweet. Mr West has made his aspirations for the presidency known before, but 2024 seemed so endlessly far away that I managed to fool myself it didn’t exist. Besides, Ye’s ship had already sailed. It seemed that the author of anti-racism anthem Black Skinhead had thrown his hat in with the Trump administration - or, at least, put one of theirs on his head.
But then, Forbes got an exclusive interview with the latest candidate for President-Elect. And the world turned even closer towards ‘upside down’.
To begin with, I was pleasantly surprised - even a little smug, I’ll admit - to have guessed that Mr Yeezy was running on a religious fundamentalist platform. Given that he has criticised both Catholics and Baptists in the aforementioned Black Skinhead, it’s difficult to see where his religious allegiance lies. That in itself raises another completely separate issue: Should we be reading into Ye’s lyrics to ascertain his political stances at all? Can his past views be held to account against his current ones? Or should he simply be considered two separate entities - ‘pre-vision’ and ‘post-calling’ Yeezy, perhaps?
Unfortunately, it became increasingly clear that this publicity stunt was just that - a stunt. Reading that Ye was naming his new political wagon ‘the Birthday Party’, the realisation hit me that this was a spur of the moment decision. The images of Kanye West huddled around a table at his wife’s luxury mansion - Kris Jenner directing the press as Kim outlined her husband’s plan for educational reform to one of her dazed sisters - faded away. Thankfully, so did the image of whatever ghastly, almost-but-not-quite racist thing the current president might say in the first remote debate.
But still, there’s some hope for the Birthday Party after all. Oh, not that they’ll win - I famously had to eat my words after calling the Trump administration a publicity stunt, so watch this space - but that they will jolt America into some semblance of reality. Waking up from the four year slumber they’ve been trapped in, perhaps the Americans will finally realise that celebrities do not make good presidents. Trump for his part has handled the presidency like a multi-billion dollar company, complete with blistering rhetoric and a startlingly aggressive acumen, that makes me believe the old rumour that businessmen keep a copy of The Art of War on their bedside tables. How will the presidency translate to a rap career?
The truth of the matter is that Yeezy’s campaign platform is, at its core, one of almost cult-like religious fundamentalism. Kanye’s stance on vaccines says all that needs to be said on his position. I won’t quote directly from the Forbes article because it needs to be read to be believed - full props to Randall Lane for his journalistic integrity to actually sit through the interview with, presumably, a Herculean attempt at a straight face - but suffice to say that vaccines are not something West supports. Neither is Planned Parenthood, unsurprisingly for a religious-fundamentalist candidate. But such Christian fervor is a divisive choice in a country that is supposed to be accepting of others religious views, especially when religious freedom is covered explicitly in the very first constitutional amendment. Especially so from an artist who has expressed distaste with such institutions in the past.
But for all the madness around this article, something struck me as particularly odd. Ye seems to have lost his teeth. For all of his talk of a Black Panther-esque (the movie, not the movement) Cabinet room, and his tirades against white supremacy (which is a very real issue in his country, although perhaps not in the ways he discusses it), Kanye seems decidedly tame. Given the political climate in America at the moment, and knowing that young and black voters are trending away from Joe Biden, it seems the time is now to bring something revolutionary to the table.
Tackling overtly the issue of rights for BAME Americans would be the perfect platform to stand on as an alternative to either the Republicans or Democrats, parties who seek to maintain the status quo in its relative entirety. And it seemed too that Kanye - the self-referenced ‘abomination of Obama’s nation’, had the most to gain from attempting to upheave that political landscape. A rapper who carries his political aspirations on his sleeve - despite how they can occasionally embody a different kind of extreme - and who lyrically stands against the stereotyping and institutional racism that BAME individuals face on a daily basis in America, stands a much better chance at radically shaking up a political regime than this toothless, raging wreckage of a candidate.
Ultimately, there may be some weight to the accusations that this is a Trump sponsored ruse to split the vote. It may lead to some grassroots uplift in independent voting, bringing an end to the traditional two party system. Or it may just be another publicity stunt that does little to divide America. What’s clear, at least to me, is this - The Birthday Party needs a fundamental restructuring and reform if Kanye West is to truly inspire America to shake free of the two-party system. This ain’t it, Yeezy.