Kanye West’s David Letterman Interview: 6 Takeaways
Kanye West was featured as a guest on the first episode of the new season of David Letterman’s Netflix interview show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. In the show Letterman brings a surprise guest onstage for each episode, unbeknownst to the audience. The following is a list of things we learned from the West interview, a rare long form discussion with the semi-reclusive West at a time when his public presence can be described as at best troublesome.
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1. Kanye still demands reverence
Before the interview Letterman is visibly shaken, turning to the camera to express his nervousness. West, though perhaps less popular now than he’s been since the beginning of his career, is known for volatile yet compelling interviews where he tends to control the narrative. Letterman is one of the best interviewers out there, but even he takes pause because of the weight of Kanye’s presence.
2. Kanye is ready to talk about his mental health
After being forcibly hospitalized for a public breakdown two years ago, Kanye was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. In the interview he speaks candidly about the disease, telling Letterman that he believes the public stigma surrounding the disorder prevents sufferers from being properly treated. He describes his episodes as becoming “ramped up,” and offers some levity as he jokes that TMZ refers to such behavior as “acting erratic.” He offers great insights into the uncontrollable and terrifying nature of the disease but falters a bit when he claims that medication inhibits his creativity, a misconception that Letterman wisely pushes back against.
3. He has some thoughts about the #MeToo movement.
Kanye equates the #MeToo movement to a one-sided war where “when someone bombs first,”-- referring to women’s accusations-- “the war is over.” When West says that he’s afraid #MeToo has men constantly living in fear, Letterman points out that “it’s not equal by any equation to the fear women feel being the other side of that.” West seems to concede this point. He backtracks a little, saying “I’m definitely supportive of the women.”
4. He’s doubling down on the Trump thing
Kanye is a noted Donald Trump supporter, though his support seems to be less politically motivated than inspired by Kanye’s constant need to stand in opposition to what he feels is a controlling world with thought monitors acting as de facto enforcers. He repeats his admission that he didn’t vote while calling liberals “bullies” and equates public reaction to his MAGA hat with being beaten up in high school for wearing the wrong thing. Letterman comes alive during this segment, masterfully working around West’s baseless claims of renegade thinking by suggesting, in so many words, that the real bully is in fact the spineless man in the White House.
5. He's still seeking creative influence in unexpected places
Throughout the interview West references James Turrel, a light based artist whose 41 year-old Roden Crater project, an experiential light based installation in Arizona’s painted desert, West donated 10 million dollars to. He talks about his connection with Turrell’s artistic pursuit alongside descriptions of what he seeks to create with his clothing design and music. He also references the late Andy Kaufman, a comedian known for his willingness to never break character in order to deliver a bit. “I’d far rather be an Andy Kaufman than the majority of the way people are letting the media pushing them around. I’m in front of the joke, the joke is on everyone else,” West says. Maybe this explains the Trump fandom, but this writer wouldn’t recommend getting ones hopes up for any sort of reveal of a performance art style master plan.
6. He’s as polarizing as ever
Kanye has long divided the public, dazzling listeners with music that pushes the boundaries of the art to heretofore unseen places and changing the game with every release. He also has an uncanny knack for coupling this savant-like genius with exceptionally boneheaded behavior. Some might claim this difficulty adds to his appeal, but general consensus holds that Kanye is a self-obsessed figure with a dangerously persistent God Complex. The interview has been covered across the internet in predictably breathless fashion, with critics finding as much to pick apart as advocated have fodder for further deification. Kanye seems to be aware of this and play into it perfectly, offering pearls of brilliance and empathy mixed with irresponsible musings.
The interview is like most late period West experiences, mixing the outlandish and regrettable with glimmers of hope that the artist who used to balance revolutionary music with astute opinions about politics and life is still in there somewhere. His textured take on mental health is a good sign, but his turn to Trumpism is deflating. The defining theme of the interview, and perhaps West’s entire career, is that he’ll continue to demand our attention, but only sometimes give us what we want.