Kanye West: the struggle is real

The rapper typically does himself few favours, but that’s no reason to hold back the empathy

 Kanye West onstage in Toronto in 2015. According to media reports, West is receiving treatment and was placed under observation at a Los Angeles hospital this week. Photograph: EPA/Jose Mendez

Kanye West onstage in Toronto in 2015. According to media reports, West is receiving treatment and was placed under observation at a Los Angeles hospital this week. Photograph: EPA/Jose Mendez

 

Kanye West’s tour cancellation and the subsequent reports that he’s been hospitalised for “temporary psychosis due to sleep deprivation and dehydration” weren’t much of a surprise to anyone paying attention to the singer.

The warning signs were there; they’d just been framed as rants and antics to be mocked and vilified. It’s a shame that West’s cries were met not with concern, but derision, and that news of the treatment he’s receiving pulled in vitriol rather than empathy.

Last Saturday, West performed just four songs at a gig in Sacramento, California. The rapper-producer shed tears in front of the Golden 1 Centre crowd, and abruptly ended the show without warning soon after.

Two days earlier, he gave a garbled talk to a San Jose crowd that was framed in reports by its mostly out-of-context Donald Trump “endorsement”. Even in the backdrop of West’s usual live shows – which often veer into verbose speeches – these incidents were worrying.

West’s hospitalisation comes just after International Men’s Day, which has become a useful landmark in raising awareness for health issues. Social media timelines were flooded with posts urging men to shed the stigma attached to mental health problems and reach out for help if they feel they need it. The Rubberbandits’ Blindboy Boatclub was praised for his appearance on the Late Late Show on Friday, in which he pointed out the parochial attitudes that can contribute to these issues.

When it came to West, the jokes hit Twitter thick. There were messages of support, but plenty of others critical of West and accusing him of pulling a publicity stunt. A clip of Snoop Dogg dismissing West as plain “crazy” after his Sacramento gig has gone viral. Piers Morgan tried to pin the blame on West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, ending his column with the message: “get real”.

Celebrities are often scolded for daring to suffer from mental health issues, as though a healthy bank balance should conquer all. “What have they got to worry about, they’re rich,” runs a the common mantra.

Is there a more polarising figure than Kanye West? He’s made some of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the past 12 years, but his outspoken nature, egotism and marriage to Kardashian are frequently held against him. There’s also an undeniably racial element to the ugly backlash. A black rock star, it seems, can’t get away with the behaviour his white peers have indulged in since the first guitar was plugged into an amp.

Whatever you think of West, there are consequences to having blind spots when it comes to empathy for mental health issues. Spreading awareness doesn’t hold much weight if you’re just as quick to attack someone who requires help to overcome their issues.

The squeeze of living life in front of a lens and West’s constant drive for perfection in his art and legacy have been put forward as potential stresses. His family have also been recovering from the brutal robbery of Kardashian in Paris in October. It was a terrible incident that was also widely derided.

Here’s hoping West recovers soon and that the wider audience can give him the space he needs.

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