Earlier this year, we did an episode of the Super Duty Tough Work podcast titled The Ten Best and Worst Contributions of Kanye West. One of the main topics we spoke about on this episode was West’s impact on social media.
We pointed out that one of West’s bad contributions to the game was his emotional nature on twitter, which often comes off as counter-productive. Even though most people can’t agree on whether he’s being sincere or just trolling to get reactions out of people, we all can agree that it does get him a lot of attention.
In that episode I said, “Kanye has mastered the news and the media cycle. Here we are talking about Kanye because there literally is nothing else on any other hip-hop site to talk about but this man. And anything you do talk about relates to him in some bizarre way.“
In the past, an artist or record label would hire a publicist or PR team to approach the media and ask them to cover their album. In exchange for exclusivity or early access to the album, the media would tell the public about the album in advance via interviews and album reviews. The media made their money selling advertisements on the content they created and all was fine in the world. This has been their business model forever.
My argument on the podcast was that Kanye West had changed that model forever, because instead of presenting his album to the media in hopes they would cover it and tell his story, he used twitter to spread his message directly to the people. When he wanted the people to know about his release date, he tweeted about it. When he wanted to share the tracklist for his album, he shared a picture of it on twitter. There were no press releases. He never worked with any media outlet for an an exclusive video premiere or a single premiere. He did all of this through his twitter account. And in doing so, he cut out the middleman and took his message and music directly to the people.
Kanye West realized something that most artists hadn’t yet–that his platform and reach was just as big as the media’s and they needed him more than he needed them. From that point forward, everything the media wrote about him was second hand. They would repost his tweets and offer their interpretation of them. But by that point the people had already seen them and had formulated their own opinion of them. And when he did speak to the media he did it on his terms. As interviews with him became more rare, the ones he gave became more popular and circulated more widely. In my opinion, Kanye west had changed the game, but most music fans weren’t so sure.
On the podcast, I went on to say, “Somebody made the suggestion that Kanye was dumb and my response was that I don’t have to agree with what he tweets about or like what he does musically, but I can’t say that somebody whose made it that far in that industry is dumb. I feel the same way about Donald Trump. People can say, “well he’s an idiot, he’s dumb, he’s a jackass” but…he might be a jackass, he might be a bigot, but he’s not dumb. He’s not unintelligent. Because you don’t become a billionaire multiple times over, after becoming bankrupt multiple times, and um, you don’t get that way being stupid….and I think that intelligence comes out in how he controls the media and manipulates the news cycle.“
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election is one that I predict will be studied for the next hundred years. The most obvious plot was the battle between the ideologies of the two candidates and what that meant for the people of America. But I saw a subplot that was just as interesting and would have just as much impact moving forward–Donald Trump’s war with the mainstream media. It was easy to lose sight of during the rollercoaster ride of an election year we witnessed, but Trump’s battle with the media was just as fascinating and important as his battle with Hillary Clinton.
The mainstream media operates within politics the same way that it has always worked in the music industry. They are an entity that can make or break a candidate because they decide how much (if any) coverage they get. Presidential candidates and their staff work with the press to get their story and message out and, just like the music media, the press attracts readers to their content and sells advertising based on it. That’s how it normally goes and everybody plays along because they fear the power of the press and their platform too much to ever go against it or speak on media bias.
Well, Donald Trump clearly didn’t get that memo because this year he took the media head on and won. Where most candidates would tread lightly around the press, the Trump campaign decided to call out newspapers like the New York Times at every opportunity. If they felt something was inaccurate, they would call it out. If they felt something was a lie or misleading, they would call it out. And not just well-respected newspapers, his campaign called out NBC, MSNBC, and CNN constantly for what they felt was biased reporting against him.
Whether he was right or wrong is a completely different topic to be debated on a completely different day. What’s important is acknowledging that he did something no other presidential candidate had ever done. And just like Kanye West, he did it all from his twitter account. Just as Kanye West had done to promote his Life of Pablo album, Donald Trump began to drive the narrative from his twitter account and speak directly to the people. He did very few interviews with press, opting for speeches and rallies where he could speak directly to his crowd. He drove the narrative and caused the media to chase him. They no longer had exclusive access to him and his content as they did with previous candidates. The result was the exact same as what we saw with Kanye West, the press was forced to chase him. Every time he didn’t like what they were saying, he used his twitter platform of twenty million followers to correct them and push his own side of the story. The people who agreed with him about their bias started to view the main stream media skeptically. Others disagreed with him and sided with the media. But regardless of which side of it you fell on, one thing was certain–Donald Trump had cut out the middle man. This war came to an epic and unpredictable ending when Trump won the election despite all the mainstream media outlets telling their viewers he didn’t stand a chance. His victory, and their total surprise by it, seemed to perfectly illustrate Trump’s position that they were biased and out of touch with the American people.
Recently, the hip-hop news was taken over by a 20-minute on-stage rant that Kanye West went on, where he aired out everything from google, facebook, Jay Z, and Beyonce. No person or institution was safe from his comments. The press decided to ignore the majority of things he said and focus their stories on his support of Trump, knowing it would probably be the most alarming to his liberal fanbase. To me, the real story wasn’t so much what he said during the rant, but what he said at the end of it. Right before he left the stage, West said that he knew what the press was going to do and and what he did next was going to give them something to write about. Then he said “show over”, ended his show abruptly, and walked off the stage to the surprise of twenty-thousand fans in attendance. What happened next? Just as he predicted the press made him front page the next day and he took over the news for the next week.
On November 23rd, two weeks after winning the election, president-elect Donald Trump spoke to the American people. In two separate video messages, he spoke on the importance of coming together after the division caused during the campaign. It was a much needed message after all the political mud-slinging, but it stood out to me because of how it was presented. He didn’t deliver his message through the New York Times, CNN, FOX, or MSNBC–Donald Trump posted his video message directly to his twitter page and within hours millions of people had watched it. Once again, he had bypassed the mainstream media and went directly to the people. The press was forced to follow his lead; reposting his video (and their reactions) for an audience who had most likely already watched it.
Whether you love or hate Kanye West and Donald Trump, they’re at the forefront of a brand new era in media. An era where traditional media is being challenged and sometimes replaced by people who have platforms large enough to take their message directly to the people. The days of chasing the press have been disrupted by two of the most unlikely people, and I’m curious to see how this plays out in the future. One things for certain, things won’t be the same again.
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