IT'S A WEIRD TIME to be a Kanye West fan.
In case you missed it, last weekend Kanye released his latest album, The Life of Pablo. Well, he kind of released it. He put it out on Tidal, the streaming service championed, and invested in, by several musical artists who were tired of seeing Spotify and Pandora get fat off of their songs. Well, he kind of put it on Tidal. It was available for streaming, but not for downloading, even though Kanye manically yelped about its release after an astoundingly beautiful and joyous performance of "Ultralight Beam" on Saturday Night Live.
Janky release or not, I think a lot of people were just happy the album was released at all. After numerous name changes (from Swish to Waves before ultimately landing on The Life of Pablo) and uncertainty regarding the ultimate track listing (last summer's kind-of-ish hit song "All Day" is nowhere to be found, and several songs were added to the album at the 11th hour), the entire project was starting to feel less intoxicating and more Detox-icating.
It's out, though, and it's fucking good as hell. The production is rich and gorgeous. The lyrics are full of braggadocios and vulnerability; it's the kind of "I'm the worst person in the world, except for everyone else—actually fuck that, I'm the greatest" journey of ego and shame that Kanye's been taking us through his entire career—but especially since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album is great.
But this isn't about the album. This is about how weird it is to be a fan of Kanye West in 2016; how weird it is to have the entire process of enjoying a new album by one of your favorite artists come with a dynamic, shifting set of liner notes in the form of Kanye's Twitter presence. We're not seeing his every thought, but we're seeing his most urgent thoughts—the kind you should probably write in an email you know you're going to delete before you hit send. The kind of thoughts you let a publicist control.
We say we don't want that—a controlled image—by the way. We want an authentic, unfiltered person. Well, here it is. A real-time Behind the Music. The first social media superstar.
We usually have the privilege of getting to know our favorite artists through their work: singing, dancing, looking cool in music videos. We're getting to know Kanye through all that—but there's just too much Kanye. We're getting the best of him, but also the worst: the rapping, but also the opinions about Bill Cosby. The production, but also his manic attacks on ex-girlfriends.
You can put your thumb over the end of the hose, but it's still going to spray everywhere. It's a complicated fucking feeling. Every time you want to crack a joke, you worry that he might actually be losing his mind. Every time you feel empathy for him, he becomes a millionaire begging for money from billionaires. There's no one way to feel, which I guess is how it's always been, and at least now it's a little bit less boring.
So this is the future. At least it has a great soundtrack.