Your next Album of the Year?
Here’s something that should surprise absolutely no one: Kanye West feels that he deserves to win the Album of the Year Grammy. Kanye has never been shy about demanding his props, lobbying The Source to change its four-and-a-half mic rating for The College Dropout to five mics, getting mad at the American Music Awards for giving Favorite New Artist to Gretchen Wilson instead of him. But this Grammy campaign is something new; Kanye announced his intentions to win before the damn nominations were even announced. In an interview with MTV.com a few days before the nominations dropped, Kanye said “If I don’t win Album of the Year, I’m really going to have a problem with that,” before revealing the mind-boggling tidbit that he’s still $600,000 in the hole after recording an album that’s already sold two million. When the nominations did come out, and he was nominated, he added a hilarious caveat: “I haven’t actually listened to Paul McCartney’s album, but I will check it out because I’m not gonna go and say that I should win and I haven’t listened to Paul McCartney’s album.” (No word yet on what he thinks of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.)
So Kanye is implicitly saying that Late Registration is better than the Gwen Stefani and U2 and Mariah Carey joints that also got nominated. He’s not wrong. I’ve written too much about Late Registration already (including the Pitchfork year-end list blurb where I called it both a “sonic cathedral” and a “cathedral of sonic details” because I can’t write), and I don’t really feel like once again saying why this album is great. It’s an amazing album. That’s it. That’s the end of it. What I’m wondering is why Kanye even cares. The Grammys haven’t mattered for years, if they ever did. The awards are chosen by actual music-industry pros, so they tend to reflect the way the music industry would like itself to be seen rather than any measure of popularity or influence or quality or anything. They lean heavily toward the neutered-middlebrow and the whitebread-multicultural, nominating fucking India.Arie for Album of the Year and giving the award to Steely Dan over The Marshall Mathers LP. Kanye certainly knows all this stuff, so why does he care what these fools think of him?
Here’s a thought, and I’m just going to put it out there: maybe Kanye doesn’t give a damn about a Grammy. Maybe he’s just talking. Kanye has cultivated a public persona based more than anything else around his huge, pathological egotism; it’s as much a part of him as Jay-Z’s drug-dealing past or Eminem’s fucked-up relationship with his wife or, I don’t know, Bono’s strong desire to help Africa. A year ago, I was good and sick of the guy, and he’s treading on dangerously lame grounds again this year (“Come on Barbara Walters, you know I won’t falter”). But his triumphs, Late Registration in particular, seem all the more glorious after all his enormous self-righteous pronoucements. He’s not going to disappoint his public. So the only remotely interesting thing about this year’s Grammy ceremony will be how Kanye comports himself, whether he wins or not. He’s got a big act to follow after last year’s angel-wings shit. But he’ll top it. It’s what he does. Just watch.
Voice review: Robert Christgau on Kanye West’s Late Registration