True or false, all publicity is good publicity? If you were answering on behalf of Kanye West, the answer would be true. If you were answering on behalf of the public who are forced to consume all things Kanye, the answer would be false. You’ll know that I’ve sang Kanye’s praises in the past for the role he’s played within music and pop culture. Although this week I’ve found myself yet again disappointed in The College Dropout’s artistic approach.
In case you missed Ye’s latest stunt, the rapper returned with yet another display of his far-right views on one of the biggest fashion stages of the year, Paris Fashion Week. West held a secret show at PFW where he wore a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt. He was photographed with right-wing commentator Candace Owen who was also seen wearing the same shirt. To top it off, the models who walked the latest Yeezy show were wearing the same slogan that was displayed on the back of the tees. It’s safe to say this display did not go down swimmingly, celebrity Jaden Smith was seen walking out of the show whilst the public turned to social media to argue what the point was here.
One thing we do know is that Kanye likes to walk a thin line when it comes to marketing his brand. He’s one of the most talked about celebrities of this generation and you can’t help but think that every controversial move he makes, is perfectly planned as he never fails to becomes the number one trending topic on Twitter. Regardless of whether it’s for the right reasons, staying relevant screams record sales. Something Kanye bleeds for.
Fashion has always been a popular form of expression, especially on the prestige stage of Paris Fashion Week. It gives designers the space to claim themselves within their art and make a statement through their designs. Some of the most talked about shows there ever was, were the ones that created controversy. In 1998, McQueen put on a show which he named “The Golden Showers” where models walked through a shower of water under yellow lightning. Yes, you read that right. In 2016, Rick Owens debuted his show “Cyclops” which featured models wearing other models as backpacks. The stunt was described as uncomfortable and dehumanising – feedback which probably put a smile on Owen’s face. The point is, controversy has always been fashions middle name. Kanye is not new to the game, and if his goal here was inclusivity, then someone should’ve given him a brief on what it means to be inclusive. If his goal was to create noise, then I’d say he succeeded at the expense of his reputation.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement began shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the death of Trayvon Martin. The slogan that started off as a hashtag has now been established as a global movement which seeks justice within the cracks of our society. Like any movement, you will always have a counteract, and so here came “White Lives Matter”. The slogan was created by white supremacist groups as a reaction which stemmed from their hateful ideology. Some defended West in his loud antics at Paris Fashion Week, although most were triggered. Yes, we can all agree that every life matters but that is not the point of the BLM movement as it stands for much more than that. It carries the weight of recent history like segregation, slavery, and Jim Crow. It was not made to divide but to unite in solidarity against police brutality and systemic racism. BLM wasn’t created to abrade the value of other lives whilst the “White Lives Matter” slogan was.
It’s unfortunate to watch the reputation of the rapper drown due to the loud and chaotic steps he’s frequently taking. A designer that once took streetwear to the runway with fellow creative Virgil Abloh. An artist that once inspired an entire generation of creatives to follow their dream, and opened the space for them to do so. A rapper that went from, “Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it” to “When you hear about slavery for 400 years … that sounds like a choice.”
It’s hard to decipher what really goes on inside Kanye’s mind. With every public stunt comes a series of questions weighing out the stability and mental wellbeing of Kanye. There comes a point where we need to stop condemning certain behaviours in relation to a publicity stunt where we brush it off with, “well, its all an act and he knows exactly what he’s doing”.