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Kanye’s Chaos Theory

Getty Images
Getty Images

In New York on Sunday, Kanye West intended to perform at the Governors Ball music festival, while in New Jersey, his G.O.O.D. Music cohorts performed at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. Unfortunately, severe weather advisories and subsequent programming adjustments sent countless fans into a frantic geolocation of the rapper’s latest coordinates; a fervor which, in turn, provoked a massive collapse of order, expectations, and patience regarding the possibility that Kanye would play a wild-card set at a third, undisclosed venue at a tweet’s notice.

Such is the massive and peculiar persuasion of Kanye, a pop icon who’s recently turned his own stardom into a series of playful capers. His February fashion show–as–listening session at MSG and his now-epic Webster Hall drive-by are the outsize, ill-advised sorts of promises that only Kanye would make, on dizzyingly short notice and with thrilling haphazardness in his execution. It is rare for Drake to spark that sort of chaos (anymore). A couple of months after Kanye rented out the Garden to broadcast songs from his SoundCloud account to promote The Life of Pablo, Drake opened small pop-up shops in New York, Miami, and L.A., where his label’s assistants handed out T-shirts to promote his latest album, Views, in an orderly fashion. Drake’s approach was dutiful marketing on a large budget, as was Beyoncé’s cinematic debut of Lemonade, and Rihanna’s prolonged rollout of Anti; whereas Kanye, tweeting dramatically through his post-launch revisions of Pablo, made himself the real spectacle.

This week, the summer barricades at Webster Hall formed a glimmering cesspool of Yeezy fandom. There you’d meet nerds, preppies, and hypebeasts alike — kids with bad skin and Sith fashion sensibilities, wearing the very latest run of bright orange Pablo merch and dark leggings. Some rode in on electric unicycles, Marty McFly–style, or climbed USPS trucks and scaffolding in front of two dozen bored but watchful cops. All fandoms are a little bit mad, and pop stardom draws massive crowds in any case. The great non-concert at Webster Hall, however, proved a unique chemistry whereby Kanye, the sleepless celebrity, has cultivated his own madness as a form of entertainment.

In the economy of attention spans, music is but one tool that musicians use to enthrall us. Rihanna’s secondary art is Instagram. Beyoncé’s art is surprise. Kanye’s art is dynamism to the point that his latest album, Pablo, is “living breathing changing creative expression” with no single, definitive iteration; the version now streaming on Tidal may differ from the version in your own music library. For many fans, the debut shenanigans of Pablo have proven as thrilling as, if not more thrilling than, the music itself. Kanye West has thus become the Joker of pop showmanship. His art is chaos, and the chaos is his art.