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Kanye West And The Odd Need For Universal Validation

I was packing during Kanye West’s latest Twitter Explosion of Crazy and traveling during the reaction to it, so forgive me this late pass. But while I think his latest plans to adapt a Jetsons movie and launch a think tank-cum-Entertainment-720-like organization (credit to BuzzFeed for realizing the parallels) are equal parts nutty and kind of fascinating, they also illustrate something that’s bizarre about our entertainment culture. Somehow, we’ve arrived at a place where success means not just killing it in one field, but EGOT-plus-a-lot-of-other-letters-ing. It’s one thing to launch a fragrance line because you can make bank on it while also singing or acting. It’s totally understandable, if you’re a rapper, or a singer, to try something new within the broader confines of your profession: I miss Cee Lo Green as a rapper, but I’m glad for him (and us) that he’s found the warble that lets him turn out effortless imitations of ’50s and ’60s pop. It’s another to insist that you’re capable of rapping, designing clothes, and pulling together an entertainment think tank.

Part of the reason this is nuts is because it’s not really possible for a significant number of people to be world-class level talents in multiple areas. Justin Timberlake may have his William Rast clothing line, but he doesn’t seem to spend the bulk of his time on it and also appears to be wise enough not to let its critical reception get to him. Being a serious musician and an increasingly serious actor is enough. The Kardashians, I think, are more on the commercial end of the scale, but there is something odd about pretending that you actually have your fingers in so many pies when it’s an impossibility.

But more importantly, it speaks to a huge, weird neediness. Kanye West is a generationally beloved hip-hop artist who turned himself from a producer into a credible MC by force of will, shifted fashion in the genre to a hipster-inflected, confessional style, and has pushed forward the integration of hip-hop with pop and indie rock. His legacy is secure. So why all the other stuff, when he’s exposing himself to stunning failures like his first fashion collection. Even if he’s arrogant to the point of delusion, it still speaks to a need to be validated that’s essentially unfulfillable.

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