Kanye-Rihanna-Gaga: What’s at the root of negative fan reaction?

Did you think some of the negative fan reaction to Paul McCartney working with Kanye West and Rihanna and even Lady Gaga was a bit over-the-top? Why do you think that was? Al Sussman addresses that question in this thought-provoking new article exclusive to SOMETHING NEW …

The cover of the single, "FourFive Seconds."

The cover of the single, “FourFive Seconds.”

I’m writing this on the morning after the Grammy Awards telecast, amid all of the post-show analysis of around-two-dozen musical numbers in the show. Among those performances announced in advance was a live debut of “FourFiveSeconds,” a Top 10 collaboration between the R&B/pop star Rihanna and hip-hop headline-maker/celebrity husband Kanye West, with accompaniment from one Paul McCartney. It became the most successful “single” carrying the name Paul McCartney since his last Top 10 single, “Spies Like Us,” in 1986.

That followed the recent release of a McCartney-West collaboration, “Only One,” a Top 40 hit.

Macca and Lady Gaga.

Macca and Lady Gaga.

And, just a few days before his Grammy appearance, Lady Gaga announced that she is also involved with a studio project of McCartney’s.

One would think that all of this involvement with 21st century pop luminaries would produce a good deal of excitement among Paul’s fandom. But, at least on social media, it’s been quite the opposite.

On two recent episodes of “Things We Said Today,” the Beatles news-history discussion podcast, my fellow panelists and I ruminated about this strange reaction. The Grammy show and post-show reaction is going to produce more discussion between us.

To put it succinctly, elements of McCartney’s core fandom, at least those who use social media, have reacted to these collaborations — especially in the case of Kanye and Rhianna — as if Paul’s going to catch hip-hop cooties from working with them. The response hasn’t all been negative, and the social media critics may not be reflective of the feelings of McCartney fandom overall, but a vocal cross-section is quite unhappy with his decision to work outside of his musical milieu.

Some of this, of course, is generational. Much of McCartney’s fandom is made up of people who, on average, are now older than our parents were 51 years ago this week as they scowled and tut-tutted while we watched The Beatles’ live American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” These fans are taking on the same sort of narrow viewpoint.

From the video for "FourFive Seconds."

From the video for “FourFive Seconds.”

They don’t listen to any current pop music and many take the attitude that “today’s music sucks” without having heard any of it. All they know about Kanye or Rhianna or Gaga is the negative media coverage they get — in Kanye’s case, much of it self-inflicted (see his post-Grammy show comments about Beck winning Album of the Year) — so they’re not going to look favorably on McCartney working with acts they perceive to be inferior to him.

However, there’s also more than a bit of musical racism going on here. That sizable older portion of McCartney’s core audience had no problem with Paul working with black pop stars Stevie Wonder and the pre-Wacko Jacko Michael Jackson in the early ‘80s. But they do seem to have a problem with him venturing into the world of hip-hop.

Many social media commenters have refused to listen to “Only One” for no other reason than it’s a Kanye West recording. Again, he’s a lightning rod, due to his celebrity and self-aggrandizing public persona, but some also have refused to listen to “FourFiveSeconds,” despite the fact that Rihanna has more natural talent than West and the song is more immediately accessible. Indeed, the general reaction to the Grammy performance of “FourFiveSeconds” had very little to do with the song itself, but instead dealt mainly with whether McCartney’s mic was on, since no one seemed to able to hear him in the mix.

But there were also comments about McCartney lowering his standards to be onstage with these “hip-hop no talents.”

Macca onstage at the Grammys with Rihanna and Kanye West.

Macca onstage at the Grammys with Rihanna and Kanye West.

And, make no mistake, this racism is not limited to music. The same types who make vile comments about the mixed-race president of the United States aim similar comments at celebrity hip-hoppers like Kanye and Rihanna.

But most of the disapproval appears to be stylistic, rather than race-based, with the target being hip-hop. Many in that older portion of McCartney’s core constituency are not fans of alternative rock bands like Foo Fighters and even fewer were fans of Nirvana in the ‘90s salad days of grunge. Yet, I’ve heard very few, if any, fans complain about McCartney’s work over the past couple of years with Dave Grohl, including the 2012 semi-reunion of Nirvana. It’s been suggested that Grohl has the persona of a classic rocker and that may account for the easy acceptance of him as a collaborator with McCartney. Also, the harder-to-musically-categorize Lady Gaga has yet to receive much in the way of scorn for her announcement that she’s working with Paul since the never-satisfied segment of Beatles fandom has been too busy obsessing over Paul’s foray into what they perceive as hip-hop land.

Anyone familiar with the entirety of McCartney’s career knows that he’s prone to exploring various musical forms, and while neither “Only One” nor “FourFiveSeconds” falls in the realm of true hip-hop, it remains to be seen what will come out of his ongoing collaboration with West.

But, given the morning-after slagging Kanye took in the wake of his Grammy night, McCartney fandom isn’t likely to be much more receptive to him in the future.

The never-satisfieds are likely to have plenty pf grist for the mill in the coming weeks.

— Al Sussman

 

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37 Responses to Kanye-Rihanna-Gaga: What’s at the root of negative fan reaction?

  1. Cathy Lane says:

    I’m not surprised about the back lash. It fits well with an earlier article I read here that so many Beatles fans are cranky, closed minded, curmudgeons. They are. Today’s music sucks? Some people really need to get out more.

    • Steve says:

      I like a lot of current music. Too bad the current music I like doesn’t get much airplay on the radio because it’s traditional rock and not hip-hop. Rock stations are going off the air at the expense of rap, and Kanye West couldn’t be happier about that. I remember Paul McCartney said he liked Franz Ferdinand – why doesn’t he work with them? Or Gary Clark, Jr., a black musician who respects the idea that music ought to be played on real instruments? Just sayin’.

      • Cathy Lane says:

        Hi Steve, I’m not surprised that Paul likes Franz Ferdinand. The man seems to love all music and he has great taste. I think that is why the feeling of a lot of Beatles fans, and let’s face it, classic Rock fans in general, that “today’s music sucks” is so annoying to me. It’s doubtful that the closed minds who say that have ever heard of Franz Ferdinand, or heard Rihanna, or anyone who made music after1980. Like Al Sussman has pointed out, their attitude is very much like the attitude of their parents all those years ago, when four young musicians appeared on Sullivan. They were dismissed as non musicians who were just cashing in on fleeting fame. It took other musicians like Leonard Bernstein and Ella Fitzgerald to name two, singing their praises, and even then it took another few years before anyone other than teenagers began to realize albeit begrudgingly, that they were very talented and did in fact, know a thing or two about music. Yes I agree with others here that Kanye West is an unprofessional, ass, with limited class, but he has talent. It’s obvious that Paul’s impeccable, musician’s ears have picked up on that talent. I’m sure Paul is thinking of the partnership in purely musical terms.

    • joe anthony says:

      today’s music does suck.i’ve heard too much of it and it is really awful.the other thing not addressed by al here is that these people in hiphop aren’t even real musicians like paul.kanye west doesn’t play anything,he isn’t a musician.neither is rhianna.lady gaga is but her voice and music are just as bad.beatle fans are spoiled by the great beatles music so of course hearing anything today is going to sound like crap compared to the beatles.and i get out plenty.

  2. NORBERTO says:

    I DON’T LIKE SEEING PAUL WITH THIS PEOPLE BEING ALMOST ‘EXTRA’ IN THE SONG,IN THE VIDEO AND AT THE GRAMMY!!PAUL SHOULD ASK ADVICE TO RINGO,HE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH HIS CAREER!!

    • Cathy Lane says:

      Actually Norberto, I do agree with you on your point about Paul looking like a side man on the collaboration. That was my impression also, when I saw the performance. I do wonder in that case, why Paul did choose to do it. It seems out of character.

      • Madelyn Ryder says:

        Thanks for the insight. I’ll never look at the video of “Revolution” the same again. There Paul is, just singing backup like an “extra.” Even Lennon said that the White Album sessions were “me and a backing band, Paul and a backing band…”. It’s an outrage, innit, that Paul would just want to play and support others?

      • Cathy Lane says:

        Wow you’re smart! Why didn’t I think of the Revolution video! Maybe because it has absolutely nothing to do with the discussion? Hmmm, maybe. But I do need some help from you. What does “init” mean? I don’t know that word.

      • joe anthony says:

        if the beatles were young and starting out today i would like them because they are real musicians playing on stage.unlike say one direction who needs a band behind them on stage because they dont have enough talent to play music.also one direction has to hire writers to write songs for them,they buy these songs and add their names to them as cowritten.thats not talent either.beatles wrote all their number 1 songs and were real musicians.problem is today people like you have no standards and see nothing wrong with people in music today who cant play music.thats like an artist using someone else to paint for them and taking the credit.i have no respect for people in music like rhianna who dont have enough talent to play music.if you had standards you’d understand this.

      • Cathy Lane says:

        You don’t need to reply to every comment with similar, nonsensical ramblings. One rambling comment would have been more than enough! Do you copy and paste? Also your caps key doesn’t seem to be working.

  3. Rick says:

    I think there are plenty of creative hip hoppers that would be more accepted by McCartney fans… (How about Flying Lotus?) It’s just that Kanye is such a dick that no one can understand Paul lowering his standards to work with a guy like that. I think someone gave Paul some bad advice to do these tunes just because Kanye sells a lot of records.. While Paul is obviously a genius, he has always been about the sale and is a master marketer. Here we are talking about it right now, correct? Plus, I think people resent the fact that Kanye probably looks at Paul as an equal which is just plain rediculous. What Kanye and his fan base represent is so far removed from the values that Beatle/McCartney fans have come to expect. I don’t think it’s racism at all!!

    • joe anthony says:

      you are so wrong.most beatle fans and paul fans like me hate hiphop.that music sucks.plus most beatle fans like me have no respect for people in music who can’t play music like kanye and rhianna.i only listen to real musicians who play on stage.paul no doubt is doing this to gain young fans since kanye fans didn’t know who paul mccartney is.the rolling stones did the same thing playing with lady gaga and other singers.i dont hate kanye i just have no respect for him since he isnt a musician.

  4. Janet says:

    I like many artists of today including Rihanna who I don’t consider to be hip-hop like you obviously do. I don’t like hip-hop because it sucks. I like fourfiveseconds and think it is a melodic song almost having a slight country feel. On the Grammy performance Kanye looked like an idiot when he sang doing his gansta moves around the stage as he sang his part. It did not fit the song. Don’t mind that Paul worked with Rihanna or Foo Fighters and interested to hear his collaboration with Gaga. Kanye sucks and is a major jerk and that’s why I object to Paul working with him.

  5. Susan Ryan says:

    I think this article is spot on! Much of the stuff I witnessed on social media the past couple of weeks was utterly over the top and overwhelmingly negative, with many of the screeders saying simultaneously that they had not heard either song and were not intending to listen, ever. Well, if you won’t even try to listen, then your rant loses all credibility. At least know what you’re talking about. No one, by the way, is disputing that Kanye is too often a self-absorbed ass; that, however, should be entirely secondary to his art, and to not even give the collaboration a perfunctory listen is foolish at best. I would like to think that the majority of Paul’s fans are intelligent people, but I really did wonder about that this past week. Unfortunately as well, some (not all) of the posts were couched in “code words” such as “thug” or worse, that were clearly racially motivated, which just plain made me sad. We should all be happy that Paul is still around and able to make music; isn’t his choice of collaborators beside the point when that is the big picture?

  6. andre says:

    Andre Walker Paul is a World famous Songsmith and no one has the right to say who he can sing with or write a song with, if you don’t like what he is doing then don’t follow and move on…. stop dreaming up imaginative and negative views on a person that has written so many classic songs, were you have not written a single note or word…….

  7. Randy Blazak says:

    People said the same thing about Little Richard that they say about Kanye West now. Cranky old white people never change.

    • joe anthony says:

      wrong! little richard is a real musician.kanye west isn’t.show me a video of kanye playing music on stage.he doesnt have enough talent to play an instrument.he is no musician like little richard is.i have non respect for people in music who don’t have enough talent to play music.

  8. solobeatles says:

    Great article. Personally, “FourFive Seconds” has been stuck in my head for the last week — definitely more soulful than “The Girl Is Mine”!

  9. Keef says:

    Totally agree with Cathy and Randy. The voices of sense and reason

  10. klara lipton says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who dislike Kanye. He is a self centred human being, Comparing rapping with the work, that our service men and women overseas are doing, our police and firemen, and of course God. He thinks he is the best artist. Paul is a real artist. He can sing, write beautiful songs. He is a class act. Kanye on the other hand….. well.

  11. John says:

    Bleeding old tossers who ended up turning like their parents and disapproving anything new out of fear and ignorance. Leave the palace so you really can form an opinion of today’s music.

  12. P J says:

    I think Paul is old enough to choose who he collaborates with

  13. George Hill says:

    Same old Paul. He can’t admit his age and continues to look for younger artists to work with to feed his ego. Give up dude!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Joel Glazier says:

    Al,
    Thanks for putting together such a well written , thought out piece….

  15. Cracks me up to see how hypocritical people can be; the ones that can be the first to call out racism – yet think nothing of pigeon-holing, or stereotyping, the older generation as “bleeding old tossers” or “cranky old white people”, for example. I am 58. I love all kinds of music including lots of current artists. My current fave, for example, is St. Vincent.

  16. Dean says:

    This is an easy question. The music he has done with Rhianna and Kanye suck. Simple as that.

  17. T. dane says:

    You are wrong, Talent is racism proof, in this case Paul is light years away from those two numb heads, ONE HAS TO SHOW HER BODY EVERY WEEK TO BE IN THE NEWS,
    THE OTHER ONE IS A PERSON THAT THINKS HE IS A TALENT. They both wrong, they both are a pair of morons. Paul diminish his persona with regular people like this. At this pace one day he’ll be irrelevant as those two.

  18. Boy, can you imagine if these people were the same age in 1964? “Those dopetops are only in the news because they have long hair and make sex noises!” “The music The Beatles make sucks. Simple as that.” “I don’t have anything against rock and roll–why can’t Ed Sullivan just book that nice Brook Benton or someone like that who knows how to sing?”

    “FourFiveSeconds” is a great record. And it’s very much a Paul McCartney record as well as a Rhianna record. I hope he and Kanye do a whole album together.

    • joe anthony says:

      you are so wrong.the reason most beatle fans like me don’t like rhianna and kanye is because they arent even real musicians like paul.i have no respect for people in music who cant play it.i have standards unlike you.so do most beatle fans.if the beatles were like say the supremes or the temptations i would have hated them.those 2 groups couldnt play music and had writers write hit songs for them.they had everything handed to them.thats not talent and neither is rhianna or kanye or anyone else today.

  19. Ed Sullivan says:

    The problem is that McCartney doesn’t need to keep proving himself in order to be relevant. It smacks of desperation. He already has a substantial legacy, most of which has been by his own design with occasional collaborators, none of whom will ever be his equal, except for Lennon, and none of whom would ever have a career if not for the groundwork they laid in the 60s. Of course younger artists want to be seen with him in order to raise their credibility, but his choice of collaborators is merely based on the number of facebook ‘likes’, not quality of output or talent.

    It almost seems like his goal is to alienate his core base of fans who understand the value of melody and harmony in music, largely thanks to his original band. It’s even more embarrassing to see him operate as a backup musician at someone else’s gig. If he no longer wants to be the star he is, then he should retire gracefully. It’s OK to keep writing songs for other people, if that’s what they want.

    The extremely classy Tony Bennett is in the same boat. He can still stand alone on a stage and deliver the goods, so why does he need to be seen (or heard) with someone so classless?

  20. Here’s the thing. I’m a Beatles fan first & foremost. There’s lots of stuff Paul does that I don’t like. (Including hair dye & facelifts.) But guess what. Who cares!? It’s his life, not mine or yours. The fact is that Kayne bugs me too, but this is a tight, well crafted pop song & Rhianna sings it very well. Period. Nothing else to say.

  21. leatgp says:

    First of all, why must every criticism of a hip-hop artist be painted with a racist brush? Kanye West is an idiot. His race is irrelevant. As for Paul’s collaborations, he has indeed earned the right to do whatever he likes. That doesn’t mean those of us who have been fans have to shut up and pretend we enjoy it. The Kanye song is a throwaway while the Rhianna song is great. The problem I have is Paul’s lack of involvement other than having his name in the credits. Anyone could have played the piano and acoustic riffs on those songs. There’s nothing distinctive about them that says “McCartney.” So it comes off as all three of them using each other’s name to reach a different demographic rather than a true musical collaboration. Again, they can do what they want but for Paul it reeks of a desperation to stay relevant. As an afterthought, with Paul willing to collaborate with just about anyone these days, does it ever enter his brain to work with the one person that just might bring out his best, Julian Lennon?

  22. Kevinbimm says:

    Bottom line the songs is good . It’s got macca influence all over it, I’m glad he’s in the background cause he doesn’t need to upstage these two to prove anything, a whole new audience is buying and rejuvenating Beatle/ solo macca now, did he sale out who cares if you don’t stU releveNt your on the dustbin of time , macca has alwUs pushed forward , would you rTher he be like Brian Wilson and just recycle Beatles over a nd over , just be glad he’s out there 30 yrs from now when he is released from this mortal body you would be thankful to heR anything new from him , how I would wonder what Lennon would do or be to lay the same ask Bowie remember fame gettin in on the what’s happening ps now at leSt George doesn’t have the last top ten hot with got my my set on you ga ha now macca should do another collab but be our front and center and kick it David grohl you listening I’ll luv those Foofighters bring out the belter smelter in Paul next heavy rock macca can do ,, just outta sight man !! Macca rules !!! Everybody chill and enjoy him being played on XM the pulse ga ha go macca !!!

  23. Steve says:

    Paul can perform @ the Grammy’s Sunday night with Kanya West but didn’t attend BOB DYLAN’S (Grammy’s)MUSICCARES AWARDS Friday night (2 nights before) sends BOB DYLAN A CONGRATULATIONS videotape. Ringo, Barbara, Olivia & Dhani appear @ Dylan’s
    Musiccares award. I wonder if Paul attended Sunday’s George Harrison’s Grammy Lifetime achievement Award?
    It’s Paul McCartney & The Beatles no longer The Beatles.
    Paul is re-writing history by appealing to the current (music?) trend !
    PS
    How many more years are we going to hear “Something” on the uke live?
    I think it’s time for Paul to pick another George Harrison tune!

    • Not sure exactly what point you’re trying to make, Steve, other than your overall beef with McCartney in general. But, to us, the tribute to George during Paul’s show, with photos of George on the big screen while Macca does his song, is one of the best moments of the evening.

      • Steve says:

        NOT QUESTIONING ABOUT THE GEORGE BIG SCREEN PHOTOS, I’M STATING HOW MANY YEARS HAS PAUL BEEN PERFORMING “SOMETHING”?
        IF I RECALL HE STARTED DOING “SOMETHING” 11/29/2002 FOR THE CONCERT FOR GEORGE & REMAINED PERFORMING “SOMETHING” RECENT 2014 TOUR.
        IT’S TIME FOR PAUL TO MOVE ON TO ANOTHER GEORGE HARRISON TUNE AT HIS CONCERTS!
        MAYBE PAUL CAN DO “TAXMAN ” & PLAY LEAD GUITAR LIKE REVOLVER VERSION & GUEST KANYE WEST TO DO THE VOCALS (JUST JOKING!)
        I GUESS, PAUL MUST HAVE LEARNED “SOMETHING” IN ALL THOSE YEARS?
        I DON’T HAVE A BEEF WITH PAUL, PAUL HAS A BEEF WITHIN HIMSELF!
        I THINK PAUL EGO IS GETTING WORSE & INSENSITVE. THE KANYE WEST
        INCIDENT IS JUST A REFLECTION OF HIS CURRENT VALUES.
        WHAT HAS BEEN THE NEED TO PERFORM WITH KANYE WEST, FOO FIGHTERS, TAYLOR SWIFT,ETC.??
        DOES PAUL THINK HE CAN TURN ON THAT GENERATION TO HIS MUSIC, IS HE THAT DESPERATE TO GET THERE ATTENTION WHO HE IS?
        MAYBE IT’S THE AGE THING? COMING FROM THE PAST GENERATIONS & TRYING TO STAY WITH THE CURRENT (WHATEVER THAT IS?)
        THANKFULLY, PAUL STILL HAS HIS CONCERN & RESPECT FOR ANIMALS & NATURE WHICH I ADMIRE HIM FOR.
        PAUL ALSO GIVES THE IMPRESSION , HE WANTS TO BE KNOWN AS THE MAIN BEATLE?
        WHY DON’T HE JUST PUT A NEWSPAPER AD OR INTERNET PRESS CONFERENCE & MENTION ALL THE SONGS HE WROTE & HIS “FULL” CONTRIBUTION TO THE BEATLES CATALOG & GET IT OFF HIS CHEST!
        I THINK HE FEELS CHEATED FOR HIS CONTRIBUTION, BEING THE WORK AHOLIC OF THE BEATLES BUT AT THE SAME TIME BECOMING THE EGOSTIC BOSSY BEATLE,
        I’VE BEEN A BEATLES FAN SINCE 2/’64 STILL& WILL ALWAYS REMAIN ONE!
        JUST BECAUSE I’M OBJECTIVE & DISAGREE WHAT PAUL MUSIC & VALUE$ HAVE BECOME, DOESN’T MEAN I COMPLETELY WRITE HIM OFF& WHO THE HELL AM I ANYWAY!
        I FIND THE PRICES FOR THE DELUXE EDITIONS & TRACK SELECTIONS
        RIDICULOUS IN$ENSITVE TO HIS FAN$. WHY 3 EDITIONS OF THE “NEW” ALBUM
        (INCLUDING THE JAPANESE)?
        I FIND PAUL NOT SHOWING UP FOR DYLAN’S GRAMMY MUSICCARES AWARD
        BUT BEING AVAILABLE 2 DAYS LATER TO PEFORM WITH KANYE WEST @ THE GRAMMY AN INSULT! (THAT’S RIGHT, DYLAN FROM THE PAST GOT TO STAY WITH THE CURRENT)
        DON’T GET ME WRONG, I DON’T AGREE WITH EVERYTHING BOB DYLAN, JOHN LENNON, ETC HAS DONE WITHIN THEIR MUSIC CAREER, FOR WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM THEM WAS TO THINK FOR YOURSELF, GIMME SOME TRUTH
        & TO TRUST YOURSELF & STAY FOREVER YOUNG, IT’S WHAT YOU VALUE!
        I DON’T AGREE WITH EVERYBODY IN MY FAMILY & VICE VERSA.
        WE LOVE & RESPECT EACH OTHER & THAT’S WERE IT’S AT, NO BEEF!
        HOPE OF DELIVERENCE WITH PEACE & LOVE & UNDERSTANDING,
        STEVE

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