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Right as we rang in 2015, Kanye West released “Only One,” a keyboard ballad about his wife, Kim Kardashian, and daughter, North West, cowritten with Sir Paul McCartney. And, in an outpouring of confusion we’ve come to expect in moments like these (see also: Arcade Fire, “Bonnie Bear,” and OutKast), the phrase “Who is Paul McCartney?” spread across Twitter.
But did anyone asking the question really mean it?
Major media outlets seemed to think so and were ringing their hands accordingly, but embedded observers recognized many of these tweets as winking one-liners intended to enrage old fogies. Soon enough, the backlash to the backlash had reached peak reflexivity. (On top of which, like, who actually cares?)
Adults making fun of millenials for not knowing who Paul McCartney is need to tell me right now the sax player in The Glen Miller Orchestra.
— Mark Agee (@MarkAgee) January 2, 2015
“Can you believe these kids don’t know who Paul McCartney is?”
“It’s awful! Now they won’t be able to [null set].”
— Ryan Nanni (@celebrityhottub) January 3, 2015
Please bear with me for a moment, I’m just prepping an article where I post a bunch of tweets knowing who Paul McCartney is
— David Thorpe (@Arr) January 4, 2015
Teens don’t know who Paul McCartney is. They don’t know who you are, either. Also they’ll outlive you.
— Sean Thomason (@TheThomason) January 4, 2015
I think I’ll RT five more people who think I don’t know who Paul McCartney is before I tell them Brian Epstein is my favorite Beatle.
— Morgan Evans (@totallymorgan) January 4, 2015
OK I learned who Paul McCartney is. He did Wings and then that song with Kanye. Thanks everyone for helping me understand.
— Morgan Evans (@totallymorgan) January 4, 2015
Look for “Who is Paul McCartney” tweets and all you’ll find is “I can’t believe people are asking who Paul McCartney is.” tweets.
— Eric Appel (@erockappel) January 4, 2015
I wonder if the people who keep shame-RTing the “Who is Paul McCartney” tweets know that black people can make jokes too
— Mike Sacco (@mikesacco) January 4, 2015
Who is this Paul McCartney character on the new Kanye West record? Please retweet this derisively 7000 times.
— sad about bowie (@moxyfruvous) January 4, 2015
This is at least the third “Who is Paul McCartney” Twitter outrage. Nirvana reunion, Grammys performance. Probably more, I’m sure.
— Chuck Mander (@danhaefeli) January 5, 2015
Paul McCartney is a musical demigod IMO but the world isn’t doomed if a teen on Twitter doesn’t know who he is. You can still get Starbucks
— leigh m cardholder (@roaringblood) January 5, 2015
Kanye teamed up with WHO? the only hit Paul McCartney’s had in the last twenty years is hitting the hay. And early at that, because he’s old
— Cakemittens (@cakemittens) January 3, 2015
I’m not mad at the kids who don’t know who Sir Paul McCartney is, but I would love to force their parents to make eye contact with me.
— Hailey Boyle (@HaileyButter) January 5, 2015
whether or not those people were joking about “who is paul mccartney?” i’m glad we can at least all agree that the beatles are terrible
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) January 2, 2015
For all those kids wondering who Paul McCartney is, he’s the guy who replaced Kurt Cobain in Nirvana
— Radio over Labyrinth (@radioovermoscow) January 4, 2015
If you want the honest answer, though, you’ve got it, thanks to a curiously similar shitshow over the 54th Annual Grammy Awards in 2012:
Glad we could clear all that up. And the next time you want to suggest that civilization is dying because a handful of 12-year-olds don’t yet know about a musician who made his greatest contributions to the medium half a century ago, do us all a favor: don’t.
Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions, and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'