It’s a fool’s game to try to make diagnoses as to what might or might not be wrong with celebrities who one has never actually met in real life. Or, worse, it’s actively counter-productive: it can lead to the excusing of behavior that’s inexcusable, or conversely, condemnation of behavior that should be considered in the context of mental illness. So with all that said, believe us when we say we don’t make this statement lightly: there’s something going on with Kanye West, and it’s upsetting.
Over the weekend, West cut a show in Sacramento short, leaving the stage after only three songs. His departure followed one of the extended ad hoc monologues that have characterized his shows over the last couple of years — y’know, the ones the press loves to call “rants,” a word that seems to be reserved only for West and not people significantly more unhinged than him. Still, West did seem particularly emotional on Saturday night.
He began by discussing his grievances with the nature of commercial radio, and how artists can be set into opposition with one another in the context of awards and prizes — worthy enough topics, but one that quickly veered off into the airing of grievances, namely that he was upset Beyoncé had only agreed to play an award ceremony on the assurance that she had won the award in question, thus defeating… Kanye. He also complained that Jay-Z hadn’t called him of late, and that Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t been forthcoming with the $53m Kanye asked for on Twitter a few months back, and… well, watch it yourself, all 15 minutes of it.
The most publicized aspect of his speech has been his apparent support for Donald Trump. This has, unsurprisingly, not been reported especially well: the night before, in San Jose, West said he didn’t vote, and expressed admiration for Trump’s campaign, largely because “it worked.” On Saturday, West discussed how Barack Obama hadn’t been able to achieve what he set out to achieve because “being perfect wasn’t enough,” and how Hillary Clinton had misread the mood of middle America. He returned to the theme of how “feelings matter” repeatedly, arguing that the feelings of Trump voters had effectively decided the election — again, not untrue. But if it’s true can’t discount the feelings of those who feel betrayed or offended by his words. At the same time, it’s hard to listen to this speech and not get the feeling that all is not well with Kanye West.
The last words Kanye spoke before leaving the stage were, “Get ready to have a field day, press. Get ready, ‘cos the show’s over.” That has proven true, at least, because the press has had a field day, in an entirely predictable manner. As the reports appeared however, further news emerged: West has cancelled the rest of his tour. There’s been no explanation given. On stage in Sacramento, he seemed positive and confident about it: “This Saint Pablo tour is the most relevant shit.” Two days later, he’s cancelled all 21 remaining dates.
If West wants to use his concerts as soapboxes, if he wants to play two songs and then leave, if he wants to do whatever, that’s all very well. But we’ve seen this movie before — a talented, unstable artist becoming more and more erratic, being egged on all the while by the press and the public, who love the vicarious consumption of “madness” without ever having to live its reality. I don’t know what’s going on with Kanye West, any more than you do. But if — if — this cancellation is to allow him to get some help, then we can do him the favor of hoping for the best.
Edit: As of 8.55pm EST, West has been hospitalized in Los Angeles, according to NBC. According to NBC’s report, “A source familiar with the case said Los Angeles police responded to a medical welfare call about 1.20pm [PST]. No criminal activity was involved; the decision to hospitalize West at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was for his own health and safety.”