Kanye West is having a good year. He was invited to Oxford University, a world-class meeting place of the exceptionally brilliant and creative. His fashion career, while not totally convincing, has received respectful nods from fashionistas in its third year. And now, he’s among TIME Magazine’s 2015 “100 Most Influential People”–a list that includes the likes of United States Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook. What’s most interesting about the explanation for West’s selection is this idea of him pushing boundaries. Writes Elon Musk, an entrepreneur, in commending West: “But Kanye does think. Constantly. About everything. And he wants everybody else to do the same: to engage, question, push boundaries. Now that he’s a pop-culture juggernaut, he has the platform to achieve just that.”
But in what way has West pushed boundaries except for the self-glory of Kanye West? In his Oxford talk, West gave a few scattered remarks about eliminating luxury once and all. What we can call the egalitarian imperative (it is au currant, think Occupy movement) has been especially pronounced in his fashion designs, which have a certain incongruity to them, obviously borne of this desire (and his pastiche borrowing). Making splashy “man of the people” statements aside, all of this effectively advertises West’s narcissism and insecurity in his wealth and cultural position (and a bit of social conscience, too, of course). Certainly, no one will gainsay his success, his artistic merits (as producer and rapper), his personal determination. Yet to make him a sort of cultural hero is to jeopardize whatever credibility is left in pop-culture. West is many things–being a pop titan of the greatest egotism is among his signal achievements–but is he a revolutionary, as Musk indicates? Once declared the American Mozart, Kanye West was also called a “jackass” by the President of the United States. Will his influence ultimately serve more than just Kanye West himself?