“Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” – Beck
So unless you live under a rock, (which begs the question how are you reading my blog) or you don’t have any remotely cool friends on your Facebook (also begs the question how you got to my blog) you have heard about the circus called “Kanye rants at the Grammys” which sadly seems to be in town again. To catch you up if needed, Beck won for album of the year which Beyonce was also nominated for, and Kanye expressed his dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, for this event in music history. We all had collective deja vu as he did a similar thing when Taylor Swift won an award Beyonce was also up for years ago. He just loves him some Beyonce.
Anyway, I was thinking a lot about criticism this past week for various reasons and have found myself coming back to the idea that most of the time, arguing with a critic gets you absolutely nowhere. It really doesn’t matter how wrong they are or how well spoken you are in your defense. Doesn’t matter if you are logical, factual, or well sourced and supported. It also doesn’t really seem to create so much as a blip on their radar when you graciously agree and back away slowly out of sight. They are going to rant and rave and the more you try to stop them, the worse and louder they get.
So I have to say I was so impressed with Beck’s response to the whole thing. You can’t say much about Beck really. He keeps a low profile and you barely even realize he’s a thing until he comes out with an album again. Regardless of whether you actually listen to or even care for his music, you’d be hard pressed to argue against his ability and contribution to the music world. I’m sure Kanye would like to try to make such an argument, but well, that would require him listening to Beck’s entire catalog and that may take some time.
But here’s what I noticed about Beck’s response and what I want to take to heart.
1. He refrained from being defensive and combative.
A lesser person could have thrown the book at Kanye and ranted just as loudly about the merits of Beck’s recent work. He could have launched into some heady diatribe about style and the wide influences of his work, discussing at length the effort and musicianship poured into every note of every song. He could have, as many who came to his defense did, pointed out that he himself wrote and produced all of his work on the album, while Beyonce had plenty of assistance in hers. He did none of these things. He complimented Beyonce on her album. He admitted his own surprise at winning – proving his own level headedness and humility. He didn’t attack or shift blame or drudge up any past history, namely Kanye’s last turn at stealing someone else’s spotlight. He simply agreed and was pleasantly charming and respectful.
2. He lauded Kanye’s abilities, and Beyonce’s.
A lesser person would also have resorted to name calling or trying to discredit Kanye’s own qualifications for critiquing Beck’s music. I myself have wondered if Kanye has even listened to an entire Beck song, let alone album. (I still would like to know.) Meanwhile, Beck is praising Kanye’s body of work and it actually sounds like he has given it a listen. Any musician who so clearly disrespects the work of another musician, albeit in a backhanded kind of way as Kanye did, really doesn’t deserve the kind of treatment Beck gave him. But Beck is a better person than I would have been on the spot like that. I’m pretty sure I would have been a lot harsher in the moment. Though I probably would have regretted it later, I can’t imagine me not taking a jab at the guy’s talent. Is Kanye qualified to have an opinion? Of course. Would anyone have been as surprised if Beyonce won the award? Of course not. For Beck to try to discredit them in any way would have made him look like a perdedor. He didn’t stoop to that low minded tactic of accusation and just plain rudeness.
3. He didn’t elevate his music or himself.
It also would be a given for a guy with a style like Beck to say something crass about the style of someone like Beyonce. You don’t really run in the same circles, do ya? He could have tried to distance himself from the R&B scene, or make some overture about independent, experimental artists being on a higher plane or more “musical” than other styles. He did none of these things. My guess is he has settled on being what he is and does what he does without a ton of thought about the money or the global appeal of what he produces. I’ve heard musicians say about their own work, “I have to like it for myself first.” My guess is this is the space Beck works in. Some musicians can be arrogant about it and try to pass themselves off as loftier and superior in some way, being the elitist jerks they are, but he didn’t go that route at all. In fact, if anything, he elevated Beyonce and Kanye’s work and even said he aspired to be like them. I don’t even know what that means. But I think I hope he doesn’t do it.
4. He was brief.
Maybe it was because he was tired – those pesky award shows are so incredibly long – or that he was still in shock that he won. Who knows. He didn’t belabor the point or draw out a long statement about his music, his qualifications to win such an award, or to try to discredit Kanye or Beyonce for that matter. I think off the cuff, top of your head type comments say more about a person than any lengthy diatribe or prepared speeches, and the things Beck did say soon after the whole travesty made me respect him all the more for his noble character and honor.
5. He was his own best advertisement to run out and buy the album.
I just did. I probably wouldn’t have before all this happened. I like Beck well enough. But he just jumped the charts in my mind and if anything this all made me want to buy all his albums.
I think this whole debacle goes to show how being humble and understated goes a lot farther than being temperamental and narcissistic when attacked. There’s a certain kind of person who always needs to be heard by everybody and anybody, trying to rally the masses to their cause. I can’t help but wonder if Kanye is always ranting and discontent about things as a general behavior throughout his life, or if the cameras just make him itchy for attention. I don’t think about this a lot or lose any sleep over it, mind you, but it occurs to me that money and fame don’t preclude a person from being petty and low minded. But the real star here turned out to be Beck who seems like he just got caught in crossfire and would rather be in his home studio playing the didgeridoo. And I would hope he is happily doing that right now too.