Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Ever since his explosive entrance onto the music industry, Kanye West has been a powerful pop culture star who seems to always be ahead of the curve. His early hits such as “Stronger” and “Gold Digger” became party anthems for the youth of the twentieth-first century. In a complete 180, West stopped promoting copious amounts of drinking, drugs, and his love escapades in his music; now choosing to instead pursue a path of righteous and Christianity. Is this just another example of a celebrity finding God? Or does Yeezus represent a tremor soon to ripple through an ever-increasing conservative and religious youth movement?
Yeezus the Republican
Not only has Kanye’s religious life become increasingly important to him, but his political affiliations have brought him center stage in a two-party battle between the Democrats and Republicans for control of the American mind. His visit to the White House on October 11, 2018, sent shock waves through the Democratic party which has enjoyed the unwavering support of the African American vote for decades. When asked about politics in his interviews, West expresse’s support for many Republican platforms. Many celebrities are conservative and many support Trump, is West any different?
Gen Z is growing up more conservative then we think. The percentage of high school seniors who identified as conservative rose from 23% in 2000 to 29% in 2015. The shift is creating a generation that is more conservitive then even the Reagan era XGen teens of the 1980s. Gen Z is more likely to support gun rights and less likely to support nationalized health care and complete reliance on the government to stop climate change. However, the left should not panic yet. America’s youth increasing side with LGBTQ rights issues and support abortion. These may seem like contradictory platforms, but that is the mistake we are making. Gen Z at its core is not Democrat or Republican, it’s Libertarian.
The basic creed of a libertarian is “I will leave you alone if you leave me alone”. Generation Z is increasingly wary of an overly sensitive and PC focused older generation and has decided that they may have too far. If a same-sex couple wants to get married, Gen Z approves and is all for staying out of other people’s business. The same holds true if someone wants to own a gun. Gen Z’s response is “great, you do you”. This detraction from party norms on both sides is unlike previous generations. According to the Pew Research Center, Millenials in 2017 registered Democrat or leaned left at a rate of 59 percent. Only 32 percent were Republicans or right-leaning. We still have yet to see where Generation Z will fall since the majority of their population is not of age. Democrats should not count on another generation of left-leaning youth as libertarianism is often linked to Republican ideals.
Yeezus the preacher
Paramount to Kayne West’s recent transition has been his sudden embrace of Christianity. According to the New York Times, his last album “Jesus is King”, had the equivalent of 264,000 sales in the United States in its opening week, including 197 million streams and 109,000 copies sold. His transition to gospel rap caught many off guard and no one could have predicted how well his new music has been received. Playing in jails and holding outdoor Christian concerts on Sunday mornings has revamped the rapper’s profile; but this time, he is reaching a different audience. The question is are America’s youth gravitating to West because of his well-established fame, or are today’s youth professed Christians looking for a mainstream artist to follow who supports their beliefs?
The answer is complicated. Generation Z has double the number of atheists versus previous generations and church attendance continues to decline across America. Studies suggest that the decrease in religious affiliations is due to a lack of childhood church attendance. Fewer people in subsequent generations have been attending church and therefore, fewer people are encouraging their kids to practice their faith. Many teens are turned off by traditional religious views which they believe cut against LGBTQ positions and challenge Gen Z’s libertarian matra. Does this mean that West could be enjoying support due to his fame and not his religious views? That has yet to be proven.
What we do know is that one of the top reasons young adults abandon their faith involves transitioning into college the increased academic workload. According to LifeWay, 34% of Millennials from age 23-30 stopped attending a Protestant church due to college, and 32% stopped going because they felt church members were judgmental and hypocritical. Gen Z has placed similar importance on college and their libertarian views on LGBTQ rights, these trends could extend from Millennials to Gen Z. However, just like Generation Z’s reversal on sex and dating, which favors less as compared to more sexual experimentation, Gen Z could also find God after college. Only time will tell if West’s transition to a more Christian lifestyle will become an afterthought or a new norm for youth looking for greater meaning in a complicated world.