The greatest living rock star

When I read somewhere that ‘Kanye West’ was going to headline Glastonbury this year, it was perhaps inevitable that I would misread it as a reference to that small island off the southernmost tip of Florida.

Kanye, who? No man is an island, least of all Mr West, Glastonbury’s most controversial performer this year
Kanye, who? No man is an island, least of all Mr West, Glastonbury’s most controversial performer this year

OK, so perhaps I’m not the most clued in person on the planet when it comes to current celebrity culture. To me, ‘Shia Laboeuf’ sounds more like nearest halal butcher’s shop than the highest-grossing Hollywood superstar. And hearing people talk about ‘Jennifer Love Hewitt’, the Grammar Nazi in me is instinctively compelled to correct the mistake. 

Goddamn it: ‘loves’, not ‘love’. English follows the ‘subject-verb-object’ sequence, remember? So it’s ‘Jennifer LOVES Hewitt’… ‘hew-ever’ he (or it) this Hewitt is…

Nor are even the most celebrated celebrities immune to the bottomless profundity of my ignorance on the subject. ‘Paris Hilton’ sounds like precisely what it says on the tin: you know, the eponymous hotel in the French capital, whose luxurious interiors have been admired by literally millions of guests from all over the world…. which, come to think of it, isn’t that far off the mark.

And until recently, I was fairly convinced that ‘Kardashian’ was a language spoken in some remote corner of the Pariyata Parvata mountain range, somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘Do you speak Kardashian?’

‘Yes, I speak it very good, I learn it from a book’, etc…

So when I read somewhere that ‘Kanye West’ was going to headline Glastonbury this year, it was perhaps inevitable that I would misread it as a reference to that small island off the southernmost tip of Florida. Especially because I had no idea how to actually pronounce ‘Kanye’ at the time (I have since found an entire YouTube tutorial on the subject: it’s pronounced ‘can you?’… as in, ‘Can you sing,  mother****er? Then what the f*** you doing on stage?, etc.”).

But how fascinating, I thought. If small islands like Key West are suddenly invited to headline top international music festivals… what about the prospects for Malta? Pretty good, I’d say. I mean, we’re a small island, aren’t we? And we make a song and dance about absolutely everything here… especially all those international music festivals we don’t actually qualify to participate in...

Well, that now looks set to change. In fact, I can already see us headlining the next major Doom Metal festival, alongside bands such as ‘Cannibal Corpse’ and ‘Corrupt Moral Altar’…

But I suppose you can guess what happened next. I found out what ‘Kanye West’ really meant, and… ah, well. Such a shame: I reckon even a remote sub-tropical island in the Gulf of Mexico would have done a better job of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ than the celebrity rapper of (almost) the same name. Or at least, could do no worse… seeing as Caribbean islands can’t actually sing at all, and, well, neither can Kanye West.  

But hold on, folks, let’s not be too hard on the guy. After all, it’s not like he genuinely imagines himself to be any vocal match for Freddie Mercury, you know. And unlike most celebrities in the musical world, he’s not the type to loudly describe himself as ‘the greatest living rock star on the planet’, or anything like that. Oh no: he’s just a regular unassuming bloke trying to make it big on the international stage, that’s all. So give him all a break, will you? Like he gave us all a break (for around 15 minutes) to climb on board that cherry-picker half-way through the show…

In fact, so modest and demure is this Kayne West fellow, that he immediately realised he couldn’t possibly come even close to any of the high notes in that song… so he just turned the mike onto the audience, and let them sing it for him instead. What is that, if not another way of bowing one’s head and saying “I’m not worthy”? 

Then they complain about the galactic size of his ego. I mean, the sheer injustice of it all…

And what about his generosity? Why, Kanye West gave literally thousands of lesser mortals the opportunity to perform at the most celebrated event on the international festival circuit, and thus carve their own initials into the annals of rock’n’roll fame. That’s the sort of thing people will one day tell their grandchildren: “I sang at Glastonbury once, you know… back in the summer of 2015, long, long before you were born…” 

And this is why I find all the criticism of Kayne West so terribly unfair. How can everyone just decide the man can’t sing… when we didn’t even hear him try? I mean, you certainly can’t accuse him of butchering a song which he didn’t even sing. At the end of the day, it wasn’t West who screwed up Bohemian Rhapsody (he couldn’t have anyway: after all, it was the original studio recording that was playing in the background. He didn’t add anything to it at all…) It was the audience. 

As for the fact that he clearly forgot the lyrics to what is arguably the best-known rock anthem of all time… lip-synching words that very visibly did not match the actual verses he was supposed to be singing… well, what do you expect? They’re bloody complicated lyrics to remember. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was written at a time when songwriters took pride in imbuing their output with lyrical force and meaning. And that was, like, way before the dinosaurs or something.

Kanye West was born into a much simpler, more straightforward song-writing tradition. You can’t expect him to memorise stuff like ‘life has just begun, and now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.” At least, not without adding around six ‘mother****ers’ in there somewhere, and ending with a “put the pussy on the sarcophagus…. We rolling, man, yeah…!”

So all those minor earthquakes reported in all the areas believed to be Freddie Mercury’s final resting place, as the former Queen frontman spun cartwheels in his grave? Don’t blame them on Kanye West. Blame them on women wearing bikinis, or stripping naked on some sacred Malaysian mountain or other. It would be every bit as irrational.

Besides, West’s performance at Glastonbury told us a heck of a lot about the direction the entire musical industry seems to be heading in the 21st century. And a positive, beautiful direction it is, too. It illustrates the benefits of allowing music festivals to degenerate into celebrity-infested ‘after-parties’ (without that inconvenient ‘before’ part, that tends to involve actually singing or playing a musical instrument… you know, all the difficult stuff associated with ‘music’ and ‘performance’ that actually requires this overrated thing called ‘talent’).

In so doing, Kanye West took us right back to the ‘summer of love’ in ‘69, when festivals like Woodstock engendered feelings of brotherly and sisterly ‘togetherness’ among thousands and hippie peaceniks worldwide. Only more so today, because festivals like Glastonbury are now so egalitarian that the crowd pays money to hear itself sing instead of the musicians on stage. Which I suppose is just as well, because in Kanye West’s case… there weren’t any musicians on stage anyway. 

Musicians? Who needs musicians? It’s not as though ‘music festivals’ have to actually incorporate ‘music’ any more, you know… I mean, stop taking these things so darn literally. The whole point of a ‘music festival’ is not the music, but the powerful statement of global equality it projects. Nowadays, every single member of the audience is individually as talented as anyone performing on the stage. By not even pretending to sing the first two minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody, Kanye West precipitated an entire musical revolution that has made rock stars of us all.

So all you Kanye West haters out there… yours is nothing but jealousy, plain and simple. You just don’t appreciate the sheer genius of bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator, so that anyone or anything – even a small island in the Gulf of Mexico – can claim to be as talented as ‘the greatest living rock-star on the planet’.