I consider music to be an influence in my work. And as someone who admittedly loves watching mindless shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Real Housewives (of pretty much anywhere), I will be the first to say that I'm not above watching an award show on my down time.
Last night, I caught up with the VMA's 2015 show. It was the first show in two years, and I was already catching the headlines and ripples in social media that follow. I'll spare you the details, outfits, and performances and get to the one thing that stood out to me the most last night: Kanye's VMA Vanguard acceptance speech.
Now, full disclosure, I haven't been much of a Kanye West fan lately. We have running jokes in my house with contents of his laugh-inducing rant during a popular interview up on Youtube. And I often reminisce about the good ole' days, back in my college years, when College Dropout came out and the whole world felt the vibrations of a pure, raw talent. I didn't know it then, but I was already starting to build an incredible amount of respect for artistry, and the ability to stay true to your craft.
I'm not sure if you listen to his music, old or new, and if you even care about silly award shows. But Kanye did something truly remarkable last night, and solidified probably one of his most redemptive moments in the last 5 years.
You can watch the full speech here. And after he humbly apologized to Taylor Swift for one of his lowest moments years ago and on the very same stage, he began to do one of the most courageous things any major artist has done in my living memory.
With the crowd cheering him on, he went on to explain the contradictions of award shows and how he has to speak up for the artists of our time. His delivery may not have been perfect, but I believe his heart is actually in the right place on this matter.
He raised the question:
Do artists have the right to an opinion after they becomes successful? After they've earned the Grammy's, climbed the Billboard charts, and made the history, can they complain about the establishment?
He boldly pointed how the very same artists that can work their entire lives, put endless hours in a studio, tour around the world, and touch the hearts or at least dance floors of millions. How these same people, for the first time in their lives, can be brought to an arena and:
"be judged on the chopping block, and have the opportunity to be considered a loser."
A loser. Let that sink in for a minute. Kanye said he just doesn't understand it. And neither do I.
The solution? Well, he didn't really give any (unless you count his presidential bid and more like party trick of an announcement for 2020).
But he did close with this:
He called for all of us millineals and the generations after us, to believe in ourselves, our work, and our ideas. Because at the end of the day,
"It’s about ideas. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth."
And I for one, happen to think that this is pretty awesome. As we say in my Instagram community of artists,
Do it for the process. Do it for the love of what you do. Don't do it for any accolades. Award shows (yes, painters have juried award shows too), gallery recognition, whatever.
Be your own engine. You got this.