Both Shania Twain and Kanye West found themselves facing fan backlash after voicing support for Donald Trump and right-wing YouTuber Candace Owens, respectively. Celebrity faux pas are never in short supply, but these two in particular revealed how detached egos can make the unpopular seem gallant—just because its unpopular. And their reactions to the criticisms that followed show that we need fewer celebrity apologies and more soul-searching.
In an interview with The Guardian, the Canadian country star Twain revealed that she would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election if she could have.
“I would have voted for him because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest,” Twain was quoted as saying. “Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bullshit. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?” The blowback was swift.
In the case of West, the rapper’s controversy came on the heels of his sudden return to Twitter. “I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” Kanye tweeted, voicing support for the outspoken anti-Black Lives Matter advocate and creator of “Red Pill Black,” who describes herself as a “reformed liberal.” Fans were shocked and disappointed in Kanye’s tweet, but he seemed to respond to the initial criticism via another vague Twitter missive: “We have freedom of speech but not freedom of thought.”
Twain attempted to squelch her particular fire with a four-part statement via Twitter.
“I would like to apologise to anybody I have offended in a recent interview with the Guardian relating to the American President. The question caught me off guard. As a Canadian, I regret answering this unexpected question without giving my response more context,” Twain said. “I am passionately against discrimination of any kind and hope it’s clear from the choices I have made, and the people I stand with, that I do not hold any common moral beliefs with the current President. I was trying to explain, in response to a question about the election, that my limited understanding was that the President talked to a portion of America like an accessible person they could relate to, as he was NOT a politician.”
But Kanye is all too eager to play provocateur. He made further Twitter declaratives—without exactly elaborating on his thoughts.
“Constantly bringing up the past keeps you stuck there,” he tweeted, followed by, “There was a time when slavery was the trend and apparently that time is still upon us. But now it’s a mentality. Self victimization is a disease.”
Both West and Twain’s respective comments reveal the belief that there is some moral nobility in honesty in and of itself, regardless of how ill-informed and harmful that honesty may be. But most importantly, the truth-telling that Shania sees in Trump and the refusal to be stifled that West thinks he’s championing are selective and slanted; Trump isn’t honest inasmuch as his presence enables those who think like him to feel better about themselves. Kanye isn’t telling more truth just because he’s saying something unpopular; rather, his position is unpopular with his fans because it ignores their truth.
The two stars’ reactions were an interesting study in opposing ways to handle a PR crisis. Twain’s mea culpa isn’t in any way more noble than West’s brazen doubling-down. There’s a certain predictability to the cycle of celebrity outrage, and it’s easier to assume that Twain’s apology is more a reaction to public criticism than any kind of personal epiphany. But Kanye is reveling in the kind of celebrity callousness that solidifies why the most high-profile celebrities can make for poor cultural commentators. His entire career thrives on this kind of notoriety, so he’s wisely learned how to use it to generate publicity for upcoming projects (in this case, his two upcoming albums—as well as those he produced for Pusha T and Nas).
With condemnation raging, Kanye elaborated on his Owens tweet and addressed the backlash that followed during a phone conversation with Hot 97 radio host Ebro Darden, during which he claimed to have “wanted to have open dialogue,” but ultimately decided it was best to “let me just take this heat right now and maybe people will understand when I put the music out.” Ye apparently said that Owens is “challenging conventional black thought” and he relates to her in that he feels “demonized” in his similar pursuit. Darden said that Kanye declared his love for Donald Trump, and defended his 2016 meeting at Trump Tower by criticizing Obama for not being open to such a sit-down. Kanye shared that he wants to help “deprogram” the masses by having the public “think differently than before.” West’s also taken to posting video recordings of Dilbert creator Scott Adams, a men’s rights advocate and ardent Trump supporter.
The consensus that Kanye West seems to believe represents “conventional black thought” doesn’t exist. Even when it appears that the entire culture stands on one side of an issue, one quick look at a social media feed or an hour-long visit to a neighborhood barbershop should reveal that there are as many dissenting opinions amongst black folks as anyone. But Kanye needs to believe his narrow view is novel. Ye has always seemed to relish his status as a superficial “outsider” in that regard, from the moment he came to the fore as a Polo-shirted rhymer who was cast in contrast to the 50 Cents of the world. His unwavering belief that he’s an outcast or an anomaly feeds that ever-present sense of persecution that’s been his raison d’etre for years now—and you get a personality detached enough to root for anti-black talking heads even as we see continuous headlines that further confirm how much disdain this country still has for black people.
Over the span of six days, there have been national headlines involving racism aimed specifically at African-Americans: two black men arrested for waiting at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, a young black woman physically assaulted by police at an Alabama Waffle House, and a white adjunct professor at an eatery in Macon, Georgia, caught on camera berating and hitting a black pregnant servicewoman. And most horrifically, white gunman Travis Reinking murdering DeEbony Groves, Joe R. Perez, Taurean Sanderlin, and Akilah Dasilva, four black and brown people all in their twenties who happened to be eating at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee. Reinking’s motives are pending investigation, but the incident arrives alongside high-profile incidents of racism and during ongoing tension regarding the police killing of Stephon Clark.
No one demands apologies of celebrities. They do so out of self-interest, and it’s juvenile to assume otherwise. A number of Shania Twain’s fans are going to support her because of her political leanings—and there are already those lining up to pat Kanye West on the back for “standing up to the mob” with his tweets. Making celebrities out to be heroic for disregarding the very real concerns and fears of their fans is questionable to say the least, but fans also have to resist the urge to over-rationalize why these stars have veered to the right. It’s because it’s in their interest to. But no one is obligated to continue celebrating them. Just remember that before defending another boneheaded tweet or ill-timed quote, because there’s too much real life happening to make allowances for stars who don’t see it. The people have to worry about a reality they believe they’re above. So let them stay there. Your faves have the right to say whatever they want. And everyone else has the right to stop listening. No explanation required. No apology necessary.