Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kanye is going to keep doing this

Illustration for article titled Kanye is going to keep doing this
Photo: Kevork Djansezian (Getty Images)

I wrote up two news posts this Monday about Kanye West. The first detailed his five albums in five weeks release strategy, which he announced in a string of tweets that also proclaimed his support of the right-wing pundit Candace Owens. On the second news post, written a few hours later, I threw my hands up, because in the intervening hours Kanye went full r/TheDonald and started posting videos of Dilbert creator and notorious cosmic-brain Trump supporter Scott Adams. Today, Kanye is talking about running for president again (quote: “2024”), reasserting his “love” for Donald Trump and also saying he loves Hillary Clinton. He has posted a picture of a signed MAGA hat and shouted out Peter Thiel. The president has tweeted that he finds West’s support, and we’re quoting here, “very cool.” It’s hard to imagine this getting worse, but it will. This will keep going.


The good thing to do when Twitter is annoying you is to ignore it. This always works. Twitter always moves on. When the president threatens international nuclear war on Twitter, okay, it is probably worth actually lingering there for a moment, but then again, Twitter moved on from that, too. It is one of the things the platform is inherently designed to do. Twitter isn’t as terrible as we sometimes say it is—can you imagine #MeToo happening without it?—but its reputation as an outrage machine is well earned. This was exactly how Donald Trump stayed permanently in the media cycle during the 2016 election, and things worked out pretty well for him. Kanye West is not cannily aligning himself with a likeminded brand in the president, but he is also not stupid. He is promoting five records. He is ginning up Twitter the way it was meant to be used, gaming the attention economy like he’s short-selling futures. This will keep going.

He always does this. In that hollowed-out period of emotional and artistic transformation that followed Graduation, he shed his one-time modesty and began to see the value in saying exactly what he wants exactly when he wants to. He came out of the R&B experiment 808s And Heartbreak a transformed rapper, depraved and utterly uninhibited and alive, a renaissance that lead to his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This cemented for him that he should always say exactly what he thinks without the filter of modesty. If you’ve seen him live, you know this is built into his shows at this point; there is always a “Kanye talks for awhile” segment. It’s wild as shit—topical, funny, profound, ridiculous. Kanye loves to talk, and he realizes it’s one of the things he’s best at, which is why people still yell shit like “HOW SWAY” and “I’m sorry for the realness.” Liking Kanye is not about ignoring this stuff; it’s about embracing it.

This is also why he stays quiet between releases, aside from his famously congenial, studious demeanor when actually in the studio. He turns his magical talking powers on like a spigot when it’s time to promote a record—logging back on Twitter, doing sensationalist interviews, opening up the vaults on all sorts of projects. That is the exact phase we are in right now. He’s building anticipation for interviews with Charlamagne Tha God and Ebro, and contesting phrasings from TMZ and People articles. He’s shouting out Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky and hinting at unreleased projects he’d like to release along with his five proper upcoming records. He’s talking a lot of shit about shoe sales. There is an actual phrase for this among Kanye fans, and it is Yeezy season. We are in the midst of it.

Normally it’s a lot more fun, though. The difference is that this time it isn’t just flecked with megalomania and Silicon Valley jargon and musings on the nature of art, but also a troubling flirtation with the far right. Today, adding to his pantheon of anti-BLM pundit Owens and anti-feminism pundit Adams, he’s begun talking about “dragon energy,” which appears to be a reference to the teachings of Jordan Peterson, a sort of intellectual leader among angry young men online. Peterson couches his messages in Jungian archetypes and references to classic literature, but at the end of the day it’s just more anti-“snowflake” posturing that “explains the world” in a manner satisfying and reassuring to aggrieved young men. I wrote earlier this week that we were watching Kanye get redpilled in real-time, but it may be more accurate to say that we are watching someone get sucked into the redpill internet in real-time. One thing ladders into the next and all of a sudden you’re shitposting libtards.

The difference is that Kanye is not a middle-American Gundam fan. I think he finds something appealing about the cohesion and uninhibitedness of this worldview, not to mention the way it places Randian Great Men Of History at the center of everything. His actual political views may be right where they always were, or he could be a true-blue Republican now, or, more likely, he does not give a shit about any of this. It would make sense that he places these broader ideas about do-it-yourself self-actualization over the nitty-gritty of politics and policy, and, anyway, he’s promoting a record. In that slimy, bloodless, social-media marketing way, these engagements are still “good” ones. He is “getting people talking”; we could’ve spun out a half-dozen stories today from any of his tweets, and any of them would’ve lead to a marked uptick in traffic. All of them probably would’ve. There are more Kanye takes out there than you can believe right now. He is going to keep doing this.

How long can he keep this up? There is no manager to stop him, and he is ignoring what appear to be the exhortations of his wife to dial it back. There is, too, the question of his mental health. His last public pro-Trump phase precipitated a brief hospitalization for exhaustion. Many stories have questioned whether we’re seeing something similar here, leading to—what else—a string of condemnatory tweets from West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, about this speculation. But this rush of activity seems different, at least to me, in part because of the way it fits into West’s normal promotion schedule and in part because of the way the far-right internet congeals to logically explain everything. He can insulate himself from any cognitive dissonance by going further and further down the rabbit hole.


I’ve always winced when people call Kanye a loudmouth. His early production work and first few records helped define hip-hop in this millennium, and he has reinvented himself musically at least three times since then; somewhere along the way, he also became a great rapper, too. His ego is earned, and his interviews are explicitly what we want from pop-culture figures, rambunctious and worldly and quotable. But this flirtation with the hard-right is exhausting and depressing, and I do not want to have to make excuses for it. The people that have wanted Kanye to “shut up” can now claim to have been right all along. They knew there was a MAGA chud lurking down there the whole time!

Unlike Trump, though, Kanye’s tweets are irrelevant aside from their diminishing value as entertainment. We do not remember the controversial blog posts leading up to Graduation or the SNL skits that enraged him on “Power,” but we do remember Graduation and “Power.” Kanye is preternaturally gifted at making people hate him right when he needs them to. It’s been pretty easy, historically, to separate the art from the artist here, in part because the stupid shit the artist did lead to great art. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy transcends the sins of, like, interrupting Taylor Swift. But the hate he’s touching now is too real, too palpable in 2018. It can’t undo any of what he’s done, but it will color what he does next.


Clayton Purdom is a writer and editor based in Columbus, Ohio.