We know everything now. You can take the blue pill in whatever form you like — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whichever particularly moves your thumbs — and go down the rabbit hole to sort out all the minute details. But there were certain things you had to be at Madison Square Garden for Yeezy Season 3 to see and experience. The one thing that caught my attention most — which people were probably least concerned with at the event as well as online — was this: Kanye West was exhausted. When my eyes saw his, either in real life or magnified on the Jumbotron, I saw bags underneath them big enough to hold the stress, anguish, and nervousness of a man that over-ambitiously stretched himself way too thin. I have no idea what Pablo’s life is like after hearing the album, but I felt the scattered energy Kanye has expended in his own life over the last month or so planning a fashion-innovating, album-debuting, video-game-teaser-unveiling, socialite-pleasing, squad-celebrating event of magnanimously overblown proportions. So when he said, “This shit was hard to do man,” and I saw his eyes and heard the fatigue in his voice underneath the arrogance, I believed him.
Belief isn’t sympathy though. The most I can muster is empathy. Kanye will seemingly cook up anything to feed the hypebeasts. When you affix your name to the son of God, bestow your own music with the title of album of the life, and take ownership of people’s children (and we’re not talking claiming dependents on taxes), you are hoisting yourself into the flames as well. Kanye feeds his own hype machine as much as his stans and haters do, and though his egocentric motivations are repulsive almost all the time, dude actually cares about everything he does and puts the work in to prove it. He is petty enough to see his wife’s initials as two of 32 characters in a tweet and e-annihilate the author. There was definitely history and ego tied up in that quick beef with Wiz Khalifa, but ego is a major foundation for everything Kanye builds. So it is not far-fetched to assume he actually cares what people think about him, including even his most ride-or-die fans that would gladly wear threads made of shit if he cut them skinny and sewed them with holes.
I felt how much he cares, how many times his attention has been spliced, and what that did to his well-being as a human while I sat in my seat. All of that manifested itself in the show. The tug-of-war between fashion and music on MSG’s floor alone made me feel like my limbs were tied to two horses with carrots dangling in front of their faces ready to rip me in half at the slightest hunger pang. Throw in family and friends, a video game, the expectations of critics (aka “no-pussy-getting bloggers”), stans, haters, and the egomaniacal ambition to impress them all at the same time, and lesser men would break.
— Michael Nelson (@nelsonicboom) February 11, 2016
So it didn’t matter that ‘Ye’s aforementioned ride-or-die contingency was out in full force and flanked in all things Yeezy, whether of the Air, Boost, or clothing variety. Though the level of stannery was appalling (and maddeningly annoying), it only added to the hype for Yeezy to live up to. On my way to get my ticket, I saw a man drop his in a busy Manhattan crosswalk, amid dozens of commuters with the laser focus that navigating NYC public transportation and streets will instill in you. He thought nothing of screaming, “Nobody move!” with his arms outstretched and legs flexed in an athletic defensive stance before picking up his ticket, dusting it off and going on his once-again merry way. CUNY undergrad Anthony Alexander claimed he had been in line at Madison Square Garden since 2AM on the morning of the event — outside, where the temperature approached single digits — just so he could be first in line to get merch. Merch. Not the clothes in the show from Kanye’s new line — this was TLOP merch that would be available during the entire event and hours afterward. All because he “needs a shirt to commemorate the greatest album ever from the greatest artist ever.” Niklas Hartmann flew all the way from Germany just so he could “see the clothes before everyone else and be in Kanye’s presence.” ‘Ye knows none of this, but he expects all of it. He craves the adoration and worship and strives to feel worthy of it. He can’t afford to be caught slipping at any of his pursuits.
The result of ‘Ye’s frantic multitasking was mainly an exciting wrestling match between music and fashion (Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan would have been jealous, had they not declined their invites). His clothing line literally took center stage, and the crowd was mostly fashion enthusiasts. The “fashion show” was not a show at all though, as the models followed a ridiculously strict set of rules and stood stoically in place for hours. There were no runway walks, no dynamism, no action at all, and after the initial appeal of the clothes wore off, it was easy to ignore them, despite their taking up the entire MSG floor. The models didn’t even have energy or stamina to stand; there was no telling how long they had been standing in that damn tent before we were even allowed to enter the building.
People took out their camera phones, DSLRs, artsy Polaroids, and old-school Pentaxes, and snapped wildly for about 5-10 minutes and that was it. That noise when you die in Pac-Man came to mind. The fashion Yeezy and Kardashian stans seemingly took whatever inspiration they might be able to incorporate into their steez — because getting any Yeezy clothing or sneakers is damn near impossible due to their limited quantities and requirement of a month’s rent or two — and they had taken all they could from the experience. Maybe they could get merch if they were willing to wait hours in line and overlook how wack it was.
The music took a backseat during that period, but it never quite basked in the spotlight as it should have because of the fashion show. When the music started bumping it was spectacular, everyone was moving while the bass shook their couture in six-inch heels or super-long rounded tees and ripped jeans in some pair of Yeezy-designed footwear. The gospel overtones of “Ultra Light Beams” had people swaying, reminiscent of a choir, and people who were actually there for the music geeked out when Chance The Rapper came in with “I made ‘Sunday Candy’ I’m never going to hell/ I met Kanye West I’m never going to fail.” People gasped at the Taylor Swift line that will spawn a hundred hot takes today. The crowd felt it when the organ-rearranging distortion on “Feed Back” shook the freaking Jumbotron. Men and women were high-fiving strangers that were gigging as hard as they were to acknowledge the shared sheer excitement. Yet three-fourths of the stadium was playing “Where’s Yeezy” and had to migrate to empty seats or look at the Jumbotron to see him. In the space where you would normally see the artist at a concert, you saw human statues draped in clothes you no longer (or never, in my case) cared about. He also brought along a lot of people featured on the album cuts he played; I was fiending for them to grab the mic and spit the verses they had so I could actually hear the lyrics clearly. But Kanye clearly didn’t have the energy to perform himself, and the others had no space to do anything but stand around him and move to the music like everyone else. Although that entourage party did seem fun from afar, it would have been much better if it were more participatory.
Throw in the Only One video game, the Kardashians rolling in like royalty decked out in fur coats, Anna Wintour palling it up with Kim, random celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell, and the new tracks Young Thug and Vic Mensa had Kanye play after the album premiere was over, and it was a hot mess. Most of the crowd were millennials, and many of them were on their phones making sure people knew they were there. They would do that if there was only one thing going on, so they had no chance against four or five attractions. It makes me wonder which creative process Wiz actually detracted from.
Y'all look what they selling at Kanye show pic.twitter.com/XqmO6GFKMc
— Charles (@Boom_likean808) February 11, 2016
The album is called The Life Of Pablo, but what the audience got yesterday was an immersion in the life of Kanye. No detail was too small for him to attend to or oversee leading up to this event — from “sewers” to the merch display to the guest list. Applying that type of focus to just one thing is draining, but to spread it across multiple things is madness. Kanye has his faults and stretches of being unbearable, but seeing what I saw and hearing the absolutely incredible music I heard in spite of the whole spectacle, makes me more aware than ever that respect matters to the guy, and I respect him all the more for that.