Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kanye West's Trashed Reputation

It’s been suggested by Stephen Kersey at the business site (and elsewhere online) that the Kanye West outburst at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards - in which he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech and blurted out that singer Beyonce’s video was better - was all an elaborate hoax and marketing ploy.

The evidence he cites is:

MTV has been using similar marketing stunts for years. From Eminem getting Bruno’ed to Madonna’s kiss, they’ve been very inventive in their attempts to create controversy and draw attention.

Secondly, the participants are too perfect. Kanye has a rebel reputation, Swift is innocent and Beyonce was able to save the day. If that wasn’t a marketing stunt, it was a huge coincidence.

Finally, MTV has motive. Their award shows aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be.

If this turns out to be the case, it was a bold move on the part of MTV. But it will have been an extremely bad move for Kanye West, because the event severely damaged his reputation.

Already a bit of a laughingstock after the cartoon South Park ridiculed him in a "you're a gay fish" storyline (a must-see episode), and infamous for saying that Pres. Bush "doesn't like black people" on national TV during a live event to raise money for New Orleans victims of Hurricane Katrina, West's reputation didn't need another hit.

And if it was a plan, it went horribly wrong. Since the incident, West has had a humiliating interview on Jay Leno's first show (in which he came close to tears) and has been the subject of HUNDREDS of riffs on his line "I'm gonna let you finish..." on twitter and in online spoofs, including one in which he interrupts Pres. Obama's speech on health care, rather than Joe Wilson (viewed by over 3.33 million people.)

From a purely reputation management point of view, it was an extremely damaging outburst that will have repercussions on the career of a man who is already known - inside and outside the music community - as a rather egotistical jerk. It's all well and good to say the man's music is hard-edge and he has to have a "bad ass" image to go along with it. But while I don't have stats, I bet a lot of white teen girls buy his music, and many will be greatly offended by his verbal attack on Taylor Swift.

His own pledge on Leno's show to "take time off to think" about this debacle and his career is great self-given advice. Removing yourself from the limelight in this case would be the best thing to do. When he comes back, let him do it with some humility. Perhaps release a ballad, or something that softens that nasty exterior of his and restores his reputation somewhat with his core publics.

Whatever it is, the "comeback" needs to be one in which his reputation doesn't take further hits, or he could find himself radioactive with music companies, and not at all "active" on the radio.

Short link for this post:


PRstudent1234 said...

While I agree with the fact that this outburst has truly damaged his reputation, I also think that it probably will not hurt his CD sales. Kanye's prime audience is teenagers and teenagers aren't necessarily into what is socially acceptable or what a jerk someone might be. Instead, teenagers tend to be caught up in what is "cool" or what is being talked about. As long as Kanye's music is played on the hip radio stations and as long as saying you like him means you are into what's hot, this audience will still be there. No one will tell you they like Britney Spears but turn on the radio and you will still hear her songs.

Stephen said...

PRstudent1234, you may be completely right in your analysis. After all, teens are rebellious, and this sure was an act of rebellion!

And I actually do like (some) of his music, in the sense that it is a great representation of his genre.

I'll add that it's also not a bad thing to have a reputation a "bad boy" rapper, either. Previous rappers did far worse, like go to jail on gun charges or even for murder, so I understand that we should keep things in perspective here.

But the one thing I'll repeat is that teen girls may be totally put off by his actions on the stage that night. Rudeness is not a forgivable act for some people, and this young demographic doesn't tolerate mean people very well, nor do they reward it.

As I intimated in the post, his next album had better be SPECTACULAR. If it is, perhaps it will eclipse this major screw up and his new status as a laughingstock.

Todd Horace said...

You missed the boat on this one.

He doesn't have a reputation as a "bad boy". He's a laughingstock already for the people who don't like him, and for those who do, they take his antics with a grain of salt. He's an extremely talented producer - which is where the money is - and even if he can never pick up a mic again, he'll be fine. But he already has picked up the mic already - right after his humiliating interview with Leno. And the reviews were good.

Taylor Swift fans aren't going to boycott Kanye, and if they do, it won't matter. Kanye's listeners include teens, but also more sophisticated older audiences who really aren't that attached to Swift. And part of his charm has always been that no matter how outlandishly over-the-top arrogant/obnoxious he gets, he's still incredibly self-deprecating and very publicly doubts himself.

So, like Obama said, yeah, the guy's a jackass. Okay, we're over it.

Stephen said...

A year later, I was right. Just sayin':

Kanye's music career stalled, concerts were cancelled, he lost gigs, and he was in mental anguish for a year. It hurt him. Badly.

Now, he's going to try to climb out of the deep, deep hole he dug for himself. I wish him luck.