[artist id=”1230523″]Kanye West[/artist] has made a habit of brash moves that some might consider career suicide, from radically changing up his musical style , to chasing avant-garde fashion and daring to buck rap’s strict macho code . But could one of his most conventional acts of rebellion — Sunday’s dis of Taylor Swift at the VMAs — turn out to be the left turn that does irreparable damage to his career?
It’s not the first time ’Ye has bum-rushed an awards show and spouted off about a perceived slight, but the fact that he interrupted the acceptance speech by a beloved, squeaky-clean 19-year-old singer savoring her first moment in the VMA spotlight has led to a firestorm of criticism for the rapper. For his part, West has called Swift to apologize , posted two different rambling apologies on his blog (both since removed) and gone on the new Jay Leno talk show to offer a teary explanation for his actions.
But we decided to ask the experts: Will Kanye ever be able to make amends to the public for this incident? (Head over to Off the Dome for our hip-hop team’s opinions on the matter.)
“Kanye’s taking a lot of heat and what he did was bad and disrespectful, but let’s keep it in perspective,” said public-relations expert Howard Bragman, author of “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?”
Bragman, who consulted for Isaiah Washington after the actor was accused of using a gay slur against former “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star T.R. Knight, said there are three ingredients to a successful career rehab: “One is an apology, which he’s done like 17 times. Two is sincerity, and three is time. No matter how much you want this to go away, it doesn’t mean it is going to go away right away.” If West, as promised on Leno, goes away for a while and removes himself from the public eye, Bragman predicted the public will forget and move on to the next scandal.
“The hardest thing is getting clients to shut the f— up,” Bragman said.
Emil Wilbekin, former editor-in-chief of Vibe and Giant magazines and current managing editor of Essence.com, had a slightly different suggestion for how West could move on from the incident. “What Kanye did was actually kind of a good PR move that a lot of celebrities could take notes from,” Wilbekin said. “He came forward on Jay Leno and was really, really honest and showed his real emotions and finally said he had a problem. The public will always be more forgiving if people come out and admit their problems. Then they become a real person.”
That’s not to suggest that the climb back will be easy, though. Wilbekin said the reaction to West’s exploits — which have drawn fire from everyone from President Barack Obama and former President Jimmy Carter to Kelly Clarkson and Donald Trump — was so extreme because “he basically ruined Taylor Swift’s joyous moment. It was a huge honor for her, and he ruined her moment. Killing someone’s joy, particularly someone who is so innocent, is never a good look.”
If West had rushed someone else, say, Eminem, Wilbekin said the blowback would likely not have been as harsh. Though Kanye has ranted about everything from George Bush not caring about black people to saying he’s the next Elvis, those outbursts were about him. “Those were his business,” Wilbekin said. “This was none of his business.”
Wilbekin also suggested a simple three-step plan for West to save face and get back in the good graces of his audience and the world at large. Step one is to seek some professional help in the form of therapy to deal with the issues he has said he’s still struggling with following his mother’s unexpected death in 2007. “I think that is the biggest issue in this whole situation, that he’s never properly dealt with the loss of his mom or emotions over her death and what caused her death,” he said.
The second, and most intriguing, step Wilbekin suggested was that ’Ye should produce a song for Swift and appear in the accompanying video. “That could help make amends and would be a great way for him to smooth over the situation,” he suggested. “Apologies are one thing, actions are another.” The step would also pave the way for the third element, which Wilbekin said is rectifying the situation with the country music world, a huge, powerful segment of the music-buying public that will definitely be looking for retribution for the embarrassment of Swift.
Though a planned tour with Lady Gaga in the fall still appears to be on, despite a suggestion on Leno that he would be taking some time off, Wilbekin said West should “definitely take some time to be reflective and sit down for a minute. Music fans are very forgiving, I think he can overcome this, but the answer is he needs to take time, get out of the scene, not be everywhere with Amber Rose, not be in every video and heal himself.
“He’ll work through this,” Wilbekin predicted. “He’s a great talent and with Whitney Houston’s problems and Michael Jackson’s death, the black music industry cannot afford to lose Kanye West.”
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards may have wrapped, but the party is far from over. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes updates, party reports and much more.