“I love you like Kanye loves Kanye” was one of the standout lyrics belted from the speakers of Madison Square Garden at the Yeezy Season 3 reveal, the event that nearly ruptured the Internet with its completely left-field presentation of fashion, music and Kanye West himself. The phrase has floated around the Internet in the form of cheeky memes and Valentine’s cards, but its revival in The Life of Pablo perfectly summarizes the event that’s sure to be a climactic point in future Kanye documentaries and biographies. How exactly does Kanye love Kanye? By creating an impossibly detailed self-portrait, complete with all of his greatness and imperfection and presenting it in the only venue large enough to hold his vision. Yeezy Season 3 was a reflection of not just Kanye himself, but of our current culture’s fixation of self-portraiture and self-realization.
The idea of the “selfie” makes many baby boomers roll their eyes. Popular culture still sees the act as an egotistical snapshot of one’s insecurities and addiction to the approval of social media. But the majority of selfies that permeate our feeds contradict this notion and instead take the form of portraits reflected in dirty bathroom mirrors, surrounded by bedraggled bed sheets or smeared with digital blur. Internet-based artists Arvida Byström and Molly Soda have interpreted the selfie not just as an art form in and of itself but as one of the purest expressions of an individual, who is alone responsible for the image from inception to distribution. "I think a selfie is a really, really positive thing, whether or not it’s art, it's super positive affirmation of self-love. And taking your photo and putting it on the Internet for the world to see is an act of positivity,” Molly Soda explained in an interview with NPR.
Yeezy Season 3 felt like a comprehensive selfie. The 15-square-foot space occupied by Kanye and his cohort vibing to The Life of Pablo was filmed as much as the hundreds of models showcasing the clothing that was responsible for the event itself. Kanye subverted the bravado of one of the most iconic sports stadiums in America by essentially streaming a record-listening party that otherwise would have been limited to a single recording studio or apartment room. This was further accentuated by the end of the show, where members of the listening party started taking turns on the aux cord with new songs, as if the entire Madison Square Garden transformed into a sedan bumping tracks on a casual Thursday afternoon.
At least part of the show’s direction should be attributed to Kanye’s new creative director and muse Ian Connor. The Instagram gigastar travels the world, styling rappers, modeling for clothing brands and taking selfies in airport bathrooms. His presence on and off Yeezy Season 3’s “runway” speaks to the show’s message of the beautiful messiness of egotism and self-centeredness. Since his aesthetic takeover of hip-hop, Kanye and others have moved from well-edited press shots to raw iPhone shots as a means to project their image to others.
The change represents an aesthetic shift of Internet culture in general toward a creative sort of vertical integration, where artists and everyday people alike control every step of production in creating their image for the public. Whether or not this presentation is how the public wanted to see Kanye, it’s exactly how he wanted to be seen.
Another behind-the-scenes influence could be the potential namesake of the new album Pablo Picasso. It would only make sense that Kanye, in his effort to become the greatest artist of the 21st century, would draw inspiration from the greatest artist of the 20th. Picasso’s paintings are often focused on individual persons, highlighting their grotesque facial features through his unique surrealist style. If Picasso was with us today to revel in selfie culture, one could only imagine that he’d favor the rushed mid-walk selfie blurred in the window of a retail store on a busy street, capturing the beauty in the monotony that everyday commuters let go unnoticed.
The music, presentation and overall organization of Yeezy Season 3 seemed to also be a celebration of everyday life. The album was, at one point, interrupted by an email notification off of Kanye’s laptop, which no doubt reminded the live-tweeting audience of the various real-life obligations they sacrificed to attend the show.
“Sometimes I wish my d*ck had GoPro… Just shot an amateur video, I think I should go pro,” was another cheeky lyric heard in the album, with a clear reference to some sort of sex tape filmed from the view of Kanye’s member. The crude lyric was paired with the most nostalgic beats played all night: an inspirational piano ballad coupled with swirling violin strings that harkened back to the days of Graduation. One can only imagine the horrors that such a GoPro would capture, yet these horrific images are the logical byproduct of sex, the act which many tout as the most beautiful and intimate experience a human can undergo in their entire life.
The contradictions of grandiose size and intimacy, luxury and distress, deliberation and carelessness, all wrapped itself together in Yeezy Season 3. Kanye has no intentions of projecting a shiny clean aesthetic found in albums like The College Dropout and Late Registration, which so many Kanye fans were praying be reborn on TLOP. If there’s anyone that knows Kanye can’t return to that sound without dragging along with him the pain and chaos of his post-Graduation life, it’s Kanye himself. Because “Kanye loves Kanye,” there’s an understanding that loving one in their current state is taking all of their bad with their good. The most basic mirror selfie is a presentation of human form at its most vulnerable, taking a moment out of the everyday cycle that wears us down so much that all we can do is find a way to celebrate it.
Music critics in the future will try to gauge the artistic output of Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, using case studies of artist the scene may or may not have begat. If art is a reflection of both the artist and the society the artist finds themselves in, then Yeezy Season 3 will find a comfortable place in history. We got a chance to see just as much of Kanye as we do ourselves in the form of a show that wrapped up all the monstrosity and beauty of life into a three-hour web stream.