New post up on Overthinking It this morning, taking a look at Kanye West’s single “Power” and his live performance of it on SNL.
The second verse of “Power” started off as a personal reflection on the travails of becoming a world-famous MC. When you become successful, you make a lot of enemies. You also goad a lot of people into making fun of you, like SNL. So Kanye fired a shot off against SNL for having dissed him in the past. SNL responded by inviting him to perform. If we view this as a power play between two forces in popular culture — Kanye vs. Lorne Michaels — that was a cunning riposte on SNL’s part. By having him on their show, SNL could co-opt his language. They would own it, at least in part, by having given him a venue from which to rap.
Kanye’s response was to change up that second verse into something completely different. As a power play, that’s a frankly astonishing response. It’d be equivalent to Campbell’s asking Andy Warhol to exhibit Campbell’s Soup Cans at their headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, and Warhol showing up with a robot made out of a microwave oven. SNL thought they were showing how cool they were with being told to kiss Kanye’s ass(hole). Kanye played it off like he had something else entirely to say.