Kanye vs Beck and the Fight for “Real Artistry”

Alia Lewis

Last Sunday marked yet another controversial moment in music history. Beck, an accomplished rock artist, won the Grammy award for Album of the Year, outshining Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Pharrell. This was a shock to many people, including myself considering I had no idea who in the world Beck was. Among us, Kanye West was the most surprised and displayed his shock by reenacting his notorious 2009 VMA stunt. Initially I, like many others thought it was a joke and didn’t take it seriously. Only after listening to his interview detailing his thoughts about the situation, did I consider his actions to be a little more than harmless. I don’t care that Kanye speaks his mind, in fact I admire him for that. I usually support him on his “let me do more than rap” argument, but this time it’s different. His statements attempting to defend Beyoncé by discrediting Beck aren’t cutting it.

At the E! Network after show, Kanye said “All I know is if the Grammys want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”

Kayne went on saying, “Because when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.”

The problem with Kanye’s defense lies in his ignorance toward art. Telling Beck that he needs to respect real artist by surrendering his Grammy to Beyoncé completely strips Beck’s personal artistry. Although Kanye, you or I may have never heard of Beck, doesn’t mean that he is not an artist. Our lack of knowledge doesn’t nullify his artistry. Considering most of his albums were popular in the 90s, and his music doesn’t appear on the top 40 college radio stations explains why many of us have never heard of him.

John Legend, a close friend to Kanye and the artist of “All of Me” and “Glory,” defended Beck saying to Us Weekly, “Beck is indeed a true artist’s artist. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, a creative and unique singer-songwriter whose music I have bought and enjoyed over the years. While his win may have been a surprise to many, it’s not because he’s not a great artist deserving of recognition. All of the other nominated artists, including Beyoncé, are incredible in their own right, and arguments could be made for any of them deserving to win.”

I agree 100 percent with Legend. Beck has recorded over 12 studio albums, he’s published sheet music, plays over 12 instruments and if that isn’t enough, now has a a Grammy-award winning album that isn’t as bad as people make it out to be.

Bottom line: Beck is a genuine musician and does display real artistry.

However, Kanye’s comment questioning Beck’s artistry led me to wonder what is artistry exactly?

According to Google, artistry is simply defined as “creative skill or ability.”

This is interesting because for decades, people have tried to measure art and box in music. And the simple response to that is, you just can’t do it. Art is creative expression, it’s how you feel or what you desire to show in that moment. To be honest, I don’t like every song Kanye releases. In fact I think his lyricism on some of his most recent songs are severely lacking, same with Beyoncé’s 7/11, but regardless of how I feel I don’t have the right to say they’re not artist in their own respect. I can’t say they’re not producing real music or real art because who am I to tell them how to express themselves?

Whether we all agree with the Grammy selection process or not, whether we adore a song or loathe it, we must respect the artist’s creative expression. Sometimes this expression can be displayed in God awful trap music and sometimes it can be expressed through soft rock. Either way it’s creativity, it’s expression and it’s music.