2010: “Who you are is not what you did, you’re still an innocent” – Taylor Swift. Kanye’s not named in the song but, more than anything, that’s a statement of his presence. He doesn’t need to be named, because at that moment there could be no other “you” in the world. The song itself is either a well-intentioned forgiveness ballad or a patronizing bless-your-heart, depending on your perspective. But either way, it reinforced Kanye as one of the most relevant figures in American pop culture.
2014: “I wanna be like Kanye, I’ll be the king of me always” – The Chainsmokers. This is Kanye at his cultural peak. To be like Kanye was not just to be a musical success—it was to be a king, someone who transformed anything they touched. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and was loved for it.
2016: “I met Kanye West, I’m never gonna fail” – Chance the Rapper. Perhaps the last time that Kanye’s name was uttered with such pure hope and exuberance, merely standing in Ye’s presence is a fulfillment of a very specific version of the American Dream. The deification of Kanye, which he would lean into heavily in subsequent years, was in full swing by 2016.
2016: “Kanye West” – Young Thug. This isn’t a lyric and Kanye isn’t actually mentioned in the song, but the track is named after him. Originally the song debuted as “Pop Man” and by the time Thugger’s album arrived it had been renamed “Elton John.” He would later change it to honor Kanye, reminding us that at his peak Kanye was unquestionably on the same tier as Sir Elton.
2018: “Thank you Kanye, very cool” – The 1975. Dripping with contempt, the Liverpudlians reduce Kanye to the role he’s played in the rise of American neofascism. As his actions got stranger and darker, a mention of Kanye was no longer a way to personify concepts of freedom and glory. In just two years, he’d been transformed into a one-line summation of the collapse of civil society.
2019: “Kanye West is blonde and gone” – Lana Del Rey. There’s nothing but pity in this line, a song-closing throwaway alongside “LA is in flames” and “Hawaii just missed that fireballs.” But the pity isn’t so much for him—he seems happy with himself!—as it is for the rest of us who lost an icon somewhere along the way. And with the word “gone,” Lana seems to say that he’s becoming the only thing he’s ever feared: irrelevant.
Aaaaanyway, RIP Kanye.