Is Kanye’s burst of recent behaviour his usual attention-seeking - or is there something more substantial going on?
There can’t be anyone - with or without an interest in popular culture - that hasn’t been made aware of Kanye West’s recent comeback to the public eye.
He began by returning to Twitter to release a self-help/philosophy book in 280-character chunks, then indulged in a Twitter love-in with Donald Trump, posted photos of his eerie ‘tomb-like’ home, declared that he would use a photo of the man who performed his late mother’s final surgery and who he blames for her death for his album cover, conducted a two-hour interview with Charlamagne Tha God where he revealed that he was addicted to opioids after having liposuction and then - by far the most shocking interjection of them all - declared on TMZ that 400 years of slavery sounded ‘like a choice’.
Most people, us included, have simply mused that this is classic Kanye, just saying whatever is needed to drum up awareness and, in a Trumpian era, employing the Trumpian tactics of saying the ‘unsayable’ simply to get attention and the oxygen of free publicity.
However, Spencer Wolff thinks there could be something bigger behind all of these recent actions.
In a Twitter thread, he went through his theory was Kanye “is currently in the middle of a performance art piece inspired by Andy Kaufman” and that we’ve all been missing the signals, since “he and his collaborators have been dropping hints for weeks”.
Speaking to Pigeons and Planes, he makes clear that “I would like to note that I am in no way trying to defend Kanye, his actions, or his statements. Even if this theory is correct, his words and actions have already been destructive and this doesn’t excuse him of any wrongdoing. I’m only offering a theory that I think could provide context to some of his recent behavior.”
Now we’ve got that cleared up, let’s begin:
5. So let’s start with the first two images involving David Hammons. After Kanye tweeted these images, Tremaine quote tweeted them with this emoji: ♠️. I believe this is referring to Hammons work which aimed to “turn racist cliches (spade) on its head.” pic.twitter.com/HF0Qaqjcxd— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
6. As for the other two images of Joseph Beuys- the image Kanye tweeted was from an art installation Beuys did in 1974 called I Like America and America Likes Me, where he locked himself into a room with a coyote for 3 days.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
8. I believe Kanye is doing a modern take on Beuys piece with the coyote. He’s embraced what might be considered the coyote of today. Gotten close to it. Trump, Candace Owens, Alt Right. Maybe he sees this as a better chance to “tame” the coyote than more traditional methods.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
10. To me, there are two clues that are most important. The first one is this tweet from Kanye. This picture, posted six days after the others, again shows Beuys, Hammons, and now introduces what appears to be a drawing of Andy Kaufman. pic.twitter.com/Yr26mtdnOe— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
11. Anyone that’s even a little familiar with Andy Kaufman knows that he was a performance artist who would put himself in uncomfortable situations in wide view of the public eye, and rarely, if ever, break character. Check out Man on The Moon or Jim and Andy on Netflix.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
12. So why is this important? 1, it shows that Beuys and Hammons are still on Kanye’s mind. 2, Kanye refers to it as his mood board. 3. Maybe most importantly, he had to purposefully add Andy Kaufman into the picture, but in a somewhat subtle way.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
13. Maybe having a picture or a book on Andy would be too obvious. A rough drawing with only his first name is obviously more subtle. So in this picture you have a performance artist who tamed a wild creature by showing it love and compassion,— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
14. an artist who took a racist symbol (♠️) and flipped it to give it new meaning, and a performance artist who wrestled women, and generally acted insane in the public eye, and rarely broke character.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
16. Maybe I’m reaching here, but I think ♠️ represents the MAGA hat, a symbol of perceived racism. 🤹🏾♂️ could represent Kanye pulling a trick, or maybe juggling a lot of things. 🤠 represents taming the coyote, and 🤼♂️ represents Kaufman.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
18. Another quick note on “The Prestige”- this is something Tremaine has tweeted a few times. He tweeted it 45 minutes after the infamous picture of Kanye in the MAGA hat.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
19. In the movie (idk if it’s true or not) the prestige is the reveal to the illusion. You take an ordinary thing (Kanye’s usual stance) make it something extraordinary (supporting trump) and then the prestige turns it back into something ordinary. Is the album his prestige?— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
21. So my theory is this: Kanye (most likely with help from Tremaine and/or others) is in the middle of a performance art piece. What is the overall goal of it? Idk. Maybe holding a mirror up to the world and forcing us to talk about some things. Maybe the album will explain.— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
22. Or I could be completely wrong and looking way too much into this. But I don’t think I am. Is it such a stretch to think one of the greatest artists of our time (imo) who has had a hand in music, shoes, real estate, fashion, etc, would try his hand in performance art?— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
24. One more thing- this isn’t something we’ve never seen before. A lot of people thought Joaquin Phoenix had lost his mind when he quit acting and started rapping. Remember that Letterman interview? Turns out it was all performance art for I’m Still Here. pic.twitter.com/ZG7as1pw1K— Snowcone (@Snowcone965) May 2, 2018
Speaking further to Pigeons and Planes, Wolff explains:
I believe Kanye’s pledge is his career up until this point. He has consistently taken left-leaning, progressive political stances, including his famous remark that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Kanye’s turn—making the ordinary thing something extraordinary—has been his complete reversal of ideals and decision to align himself with prominent figures from far right conservatism. Will his album be his prestige and reveal the trick?
Is Kanye West, with the help of Tremaine Emory and others, is attempting to pull off an updated version of Joseph Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me? Could he be borrowing from Hammons and attempting to turn a symbol which is perceived to be racist or hateful into his own, with a new meaning?
What exactly is he trying to accomplish with this performance art piece? I don’t know. And I’m not sure we’re supposed to know. At least not yet. Maybe it’s a conversation about the perceived stigma of mental health in our country. Maybe it’s a conversation about how the media and public treat celebrities. Maybe it’s a conversation about race relations or what it means to be black in American politics. Maybe he’s just trying to hold a mirror up to the world and force us to examine where we are as a society.
Or there’s the possibility that he’s completely lost it and the only one being trolled is me. But it’s not like we haven’t seen this happen before. A lot of people thought Joaquin Phoenix had lost his mind when he supposedly quit acting and became a rapper. Remember that bizarre Letterman interview? Turns out it was all performance art for the movie, I’m Still Here, which was written and produced by Phoenix and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck.
Convinced? Or is this reading too much into West simply indulging in classic behaviour and just upping the ante in this time when the only way to stand out is to be truly shocking?
Time will tell.