Kanye West storms the stage briefly and silently as Beck accepted the Grammy for Album of the Year. (CBS)

Kanye says "I'm sorry Beck": But is he? Let's analyze the lifecycle of a Kanye apology

Yesterday, he apologized (again) for his behavior at the Grammys. But does he really mean it?


Anna Silman
February 27, 2015 9:54PM (UTC)

The consensus lately has been that Kanye is softening up in his old age. Yesterday, shortly after breaking into tears during an interview with BBC1 while discussing the death of a friend, he tweeted an apology to Beck for his now infamous Grammy incident (he threw in apology to Bruno Mars too, 'cause why not?)

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Naturally, people are rushing to herald the age of a new Kanye. “Has a softer, kinder Kanye West emerged?” asks All Hip Hop, with Vulture saying that Kanye’s remarks as of late are “in striking contrast to the Kanye West of yore." Certainly there is corroborating evidence (fatherhood, his more easygoing tracks) to suggest that Kanye is getting a little mellower around the ages. But it’s important not to rush to conclusions: Knowing what we know about Kanye, no apology is ever as it seems, no remark ever conclusive, no statement made without ulterior motives. Let’s break it down:

Phase one: Holding firm 
The night of the Grammys, he is asked about the incident. Instead of apologizing, he goes off on a wild tangent about Beck’s failure to respect artistry, telling E!: “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."

Phase two: Apologizing while not apologizing
As everyone freaks out and rushes to condemn Ye’s behavior, Kanye goes on Ryan Seacrest’s show to explain his remarks, saying: “Beck is one of the nicest guys and one of the most respected musicians in the game. So, there’s nothing that I will want to do as a fellow musician to disrespect him in any way.” Still, he doesn't exactly express remorse for his actions: “The weird thing is like, and I don’t feel like I have the right to take away from people’s moments, but the reality of it is — and case in point by who came up to me right afterwards — is it’s almost like a chiropractor. You know, you just get a little crook out like, “Wow, this crook has been there!” It’s just a little jolt of truth, right?”

Phase three: Expressing increasing remorse amidst public backlash
A few days later, he appeared on the "Breakfast Club", where he appeared increasingly contrite, coming about as close as Kanye comes to straight up admitting he was wrong: “The other day I went out to dinner with Taylor Swift and ironically they were playing the Beck album in the background. I was like, 'Man, this is kind of good. I ain't gonna lie,' " he says. "I got his number, and I'm supposed to call him, but just keep forgetting.” He also basically admits that he hasn’t listened to the album: "I bet you the album is really good. I'm gonna listen to the album, and maybe it was potentially an album of the year. But the Grammys are still ... they have a commercial component to it. And they want to sell commercials.”

Phase four: Unprompted admission of guilt
After displaying unprecedented emotion in his interview with BBC1 when discussing the death of his friend, Central Saint Martins professor Louise Wilson, Kanye apologizes yet again. Taking to Twitter, he offers a straightforward mea culpa, dropping the usual defensiveness and attempts at justification. He also apologizes to Bruno Mars (did anybody even know these guys had beef? Trust Kanye to ignite new controversies even as he’s quashing the old ones).

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Well, okay then! Looks like the show’s over, right? The hatchet has been buried. But it’s worth nothing that the Kanye apology has a long lifecycle. Let’s look back, now, on his apology to Taylor Swift, from the last time he made a public spectacle of himself.

Phase one: Holding firm
To be fair, this was a very spur of the moment reaction, but the famous shrug said it all.

Phase two: Apologizing while not apologizing

Shortly after the ceremony, he posted one of the most backhanded and least earnest-seeming apologies in history on his blog. Highlight: “I I LIKE THE LYRICS ABOUT BEING A CHEERLEADER AND SHE'S IN THE BLEACHERS!” Wow.

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Phase three: Expressing increasing remorse amidst public backlash
Realizing how much hate he was getting, he makes an unplanned appearance on Leno to apologize: "I immediately knew in the situation that it was wrong and it wasn't a spectacle," a visibly emotional West said said. "It's actually someone's emotions that I stepped on. It was very, it was rude, period. I'd like to be able to apologize to her in person.” he went on, “I don't try to justify it because I was just in the wrong, that's period.” He also spoke about his mother's death, pointing to his continued grief as an underlying motive for his actions.

The day after that, Taylor appears on "The View" to talk about how her feelings were hurt, and says that Kanye has let to call her up and apologize. Kanye phones her soon after. "Kanye did call me, and he was very sincere in his apology, and I accepted that apology," Taylor told ABC Radio the next day.

Phase four: Unprompted admisison of guilt
"I'm sorry, Taylor," he wrote on Twitter in September 2010 -- a year after the incident. "We're both artists, and the media and managers are trying to get between us. She deserves the apology more than anyone. Thank you [Twitter co-founders] Biz Stone and Evan Williams for creating a platform where we can communicate directly.”

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Phase FIVE: Backpedaling!

But then, in an interview with the Times in 2012, he took it all back! "If anyone's reading this waiting for some type of full-on, flat apology for anything, they should just stop reading right now," he said, saying he "gave in to peer pressure to apologize." Whoah.

Phase six, many years later: BFF-dom
At this year’s Grammys, photos of the pair shaking hands emerged, and now Kanye says they are going into the studio together. Taylor was even spotted busting a move to Kanye's new track at the BRIT awards --  and nothing says BFF-dom like Taylor arm-dancing.

So, fellow Kanye fans and haters, what can we conclude here? On the one hand, he seems to be moving through the apology lifecycle faster, having got to the straightforward "I'm sorry" tweet ahead of schedule — less than 20 days from offense, compared to an entire year for the Swift Incident. If we're being optimistic, Kanye seems to be realizing that an apology means more when you let it stand on its own instead of couching it in a bunch of BS, in which case, this could really be a sign of personal growth. (Yay, Kanye!) He certainly appears increasingly genuine, and his interviews with the Breakfast Club and BBC seem to display a genuine vulnerability we've rarely seen from the almighty 'Ye.

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Yet there’s also reason to doubt. While his 2009 stage-rush seemed borne out of genuine outrage and pure, unchecked impulse, this year's stage-rush felt almost perfunctory, and one has to wonder whether the apology tour is nothing more than a well-executed publicity stunt. For one, a lot of his remarks have been weirdly cross-promotional (name-checking Taylor Swift while apologizing to Beck, or the weird Bruno Mars callout), and he certainly seems to be milking this incident for all it's worth (unlike in 2009, this apology tour seems more of a self-motivated campaign than a response to public backlash). Mellower though he may be, Kanye is also a master of media manipulation and keeping himself in the spotlight, and we wouldn't be surprised if there's even more of this story still to come.

Will there be a phase five and six? Will Kanye take back his apology once the fervor subsides? And most importantly, are we looking at Beck/Kanye team-up album a few years down the line? Anything's possible in the Yeezyverse. If you'd told us in 2009 that Taylor Swift and Kanye would be having dinner together, we wouldn't have believed that, either.


Anna Silman

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