Taylor, Trump and Twitter – a year in the life of Kanye West

Kanye West

After releasing a new track, Facts, on New Year’s Eve, Kanye followed it up with another new track, No Parties in LA, on 18 January.

January: Album announcements and Twitter rows (part one)

At that point, his forthcoming album was due to be called Swish (replacing the previous So Help Me God), and was – its maker said – “the best album of all time”. On 26 January, he announced he would be premiering it at Madison Square Garden in New York. Never one to shun cross-promotional activity, the album launch was to be combined with a show for his Yeezy range for Adidas. Oh, and it would be shown in cinemas worldwide. Of course.

You would think, with all that to take care of, West might have better things to do than having rows on Twitter. You would be wrong. After West announced the new album would now be called Waves rather than Swish, Wiz Khalifa suggested he’d pinched the new name from the Harlem rapper Max B. Never one to see bait without taking it, West piled in. “Your first single was corny as fuck and most there after … No one I know has ever listened to one of your albums all the way through … I am your OG and I will be respected as such.” All of which provoked a most peculiar response from Khalifa’s girlfriend (and West’s ex), Amber Rose: “Are u mad I’m not around to play in ur asshole anymore? #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch.” It’s just like the Algonquin round table, I tell you.

The month in a Kanye title: Can’t Tell Me Nothing

February: Twitter rows (parts two and three) and the album launch

Well, having a pop at a fellow rapper can get to feel tame sometimes. So why not tweet your support for the man at the centre of a massive sexual-assault scandal instead? On 9 February, West chose to do just that, with the massively unambiguous: “BILL COSBY INNOCENT!!!!!!!!!!” As the Guardian’s Dave Schilling observed: “I have a sneaking suspicion Kanye West has a box full of note cards, and on those note cards there are transgressive statements written on them. Proclaiming Bill Cosby is innocent of raping 37 women is probably just one of them.” Still, there’s no better way to distract attention from that by announcing that your new album has its third new title in less than a month. Now it was to be called The Life of Pablo. Half the tracklist had changed from when it was called Swish. Surely that would be it for the saga of So Help Me God/Swish/Waves/The Life of Pablo?

Then, on 11 February, West finally revealed the album at Madison Square Garden: he played it on his laptop from the stage, and appeared to get an email after one of the songs. Still, it was fun at the cinema, reckoned Ben Beaumont-Thomas: “What may have seemed ramshackle in Madison Square Garden, or watching at home on the official stream that kept buffering due to demand, took on an unguarded beauty on the big screen.” All’s well that ends well, then. But hang on! What’s this? It’s Taylor Swift’s “people” saying she wasn’t at all happy at Kanye rapping about her: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous.” West responded to the Swift condemnation by saying they’d had an hour-long conversation about the song, and she “gave her blessings”. As for the album itself, our review by Alexis Petridis detected a distinct “lack of focus”. Still, the rest of our writers liked it enough to make it our fourth best album of the year.

You’d think that would have been enough activity for one month. But you would be wrong. Days after releasing The Life of Pablo – which by the time it reached the Tidal streaming service was already different to the version premiered in New York – he told the world (via Twitter) that he was $53m in debt and asked Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for a $1bn investment in his ideas: “Hey, Larry Page I’m down for your help, too.” He also announced he would be releasing another new album in the summer. But he didn’t. Nor did he turn out for Preston North End reserves, though in all honesty he never claimed he would do that.

The month in a Kanye title: Gold Digger

March: Twitter rows (part four) and album updates (part one)

At last, a breather in Westworld. It was a quiet month, with just the one war of tweets (with Deadmau5, who was affronted when a photo West tweeted appeared to show him using Pirate Bay. West responded by inviting the EDM star to perform at his daughter’s birthday party “with specifically a minnie mouse dead-mow-five head … not a mickey mouse dead-mow-five head”). He also said he might never release a CD again. Perhaps he was tied up at work, because despite The Life of Pablo having been released the month before, he was busy updating it, so whenever you logged in to Tidal you faced the prospect of listening to a different album to the one you’d been listening to the day before.

The month in a Kanye title: Don’t Stop

April: Album updates (part two) and lawsuits (part one)

Once again, calm settled over Kanye West. He began the month by announcing that a “newly updated, remixed and remastered version” of The Life of Pablo would be streaming on all major services from 1 April, though he added that he’d carry on tinkering with it for the foreseeable. The problem, though, was that in February he had told the world his album would only ever be on Tidal; fans who’d signed up to Tidal on that promise were rather disgruntled by that development. One Justin Baker-Rhett, in fact, was so disgruntled that he launched a lawsuit, alleging the promise of exclusive access to West’s latest album led to an influx of new Tidal subscribers and allowed the service to collect users’ personal information. No matter the apparent chaos surrounding the album, though – this was the month The Life of Pablo became the first album to top the US charts based primarily on streaming.

The month in a Kanye title: Bad News

May: Lawsuits (part two) and Macca pledges support

The days were getting longer and warmer, and West was largely staying out of the headlines. Except when other people were putting him in them. People such as the Hungarian rock musician Gabor Presser, who filed a suit in the US district court in Manhattan alleging that New Slaves, from the album Yeezus, took without permission from his own 1969 song Gyöngyhajú Lány. He wanted $2.5m in damages – clearly, he hadn’t seen West’s tweets about being $53m in debt. Or people like Sir Paul McCartney, who told the world – from his position as one of the great spokesmen for black people – that West’s use of the N-word in his lyrics was justified, citing its appearance in their collaboration All Day. “People like Oprah, who’s a little conservative about that stuff, said, ‘You shouldn’t do it, even black people shouldn’t use that word.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but it’s Kanye! And he’s talking about an urban generation that uses that word in a completely different way.’ It’s the context. So I was actually pleased with it.”

The month in a Kanye title: Facts

June: Cancelled shows (part one) and a ‘rape culture’ video

West started getting back into the swing of things as summer arrived. First, a popup concert at the 1,500-capacity Webster Hall ended in the requisite chaos after many thousands tried to get into the hastily scheduled 2am gig, resulting in it being cancelled and the venue being locked down by authorities. Well, he was always going to bounce back from that, which he did by unveiling the trailer to his Only One video game. The trailer featured, as the Guardian put it at the time, “an animation of the Chicago rapper’s late mother Donda West, who rides on the back of a winged white horse that is galloping through the clouds towards heaven.” Just like Call of Duty. Only One has been in development since 2015. It is not yet in shops.

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for, the moment where he caused wholly unnecessary offence – the release of the video for Famous (the song in which he said he’d made “that bitch” Taylor Swift famous, if you recall). The video featured a rollcall of waxworks of celebrities connected in some way with West in bed with him and his wife, Kim Kardashian West. It was a comment on fame, West reckoned. Lena Dunham wasn’t impressed – she called it “one of the more disturbing ‘artistic’ efforts in recent memory” and said it was emblematic of “rape culture”. And there’s more. “As assaults are Periscoped across the web and girls commit suicide after being exposed in ways they never imagined ... While Bill Cosby’s crimes are still being uncovered and understood as traumas for the women he assaulted but also massive bruises to our national consciousness ... Now I have to see the prone, unconscious, waxy bodies of famous women, twisted like they’ve been drugged and chucked aside at a rager? It gives me such a sickening sense of dis-ease.”

The month in a Kanye title: Guilt Trip

July: Twitter rows (part five – extended to Snapchat and Instagram)

Would there be no end to the West-Swift kerfuffle? This time it was Kim Kardashian West restarting the row, by uploading to her Snapchat account film snippets of West and Swift on the phone discussing Famous, in which she appeared to approve the song – though there was no reference to the “that bitch” line. Swift responded, though she chose Instagram: “Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me ‘that bitch’ in his song? It doesn’t exist because it never happened. You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world.” Who should we call to resolve this one? That’s right – lawyers. And what did they have to say? That lawyers should be involved. Because if West had recorded the call in California, without Swift’s consent, he had broken the law and could face a year in county jail. The fact that West has remained unincarcerated suggests, very much, that Swift thought the lawyers could just keep out of it as far as she was concerned.

The month in a Kanye title: Blame Game

August: Dreaming of Ikea and opening popup shops

The dog days of August were free of fights with Swift, but there’s no time off when you’re Kanye West. At least he got into the silly-season swing, mind you, when he told Radio 1 of his dream to design furniture for Ikea. “Yo Ikea, allow Kanye to create, allow him to make this thing because you know what, I want a bed that he makes, I want a chair that he makes,” West said, as he explained why students would want a dorm room designed by him. And who are we to doubt that practicality of anything designed by the man who came up with leather jogging pants? Ikea Australia responded with a mockup of a Yeezy bed, big enough to recreate the Famous video. The Famous video? Let’s not go back there again, please. Meanwhile, he set about trying to clear that $53m of debt by opening 21 popup shops around the world, selling limited-edition merchandise for three days only. “The new shops follow on from West’s popup in New York’s Soho in March, which he said generated $2m (£1.5m) in sales of items including thrift store jackets customised by the rapper for $400,” the Guardian reported. So, 21 of those, and he’s only $11m short of paying off his debts. Job’s a good un. After that, beginning his Saint Pablo tour – on a stage that flew above the audience, naturally – seemed positively restrained.

The month in a Kanye title: Christian Dior Denim Flow

September: On the road and on the catwalk

Autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and Kanye West concentrating on the work, failing to provoke any major rows, not insisting on his suitability to design space shuttles, not announcing he should be the leader of Ukip, or anything like that. If anything, he behaved suspiciously like a musician. The Guardian reported that the Saint Pablo show was worth five stars – “dynamic and compelling”, don’t you know? West announced that he and Drake were making an album together (making it the third album he announced in a year that saw only one actually reach the public). And he put on his Yeezy Season 4 fashion show, which featured real tigers dressed in galoshes made from the highly treated skin of lions. (It didn’t; but you believed it, didn’t you?)

The month in a Kanye title: Highlights

October: Cancelled shows (part two) and Grammy politics (part one)

The Saint Pablo tour encountered its first hiccups, when West walked off stage halfway through a show after learning that Kim had been parted from her possessions at gunpoint by a gang in Paris. He then cancelled two shows, moving them to December (more on that later). As for the robbers, they fled on bicycles. Just thought you’d like to know that detail. He was feeling feisty by now, and when the Saint Pablo tour resumed, he told the crowd in Oakland how the 2017 Grammys needed to pan out: “The album I listen to the most this year is Frank Ocean’s album. I’ll tell you this right now, if his album is not nominated in no categories, I’m not showing up to the Grammys. As artists, we’ve got to come together to fight the bullshit.” This was entirely consistent with his policy on awards events, which has usually consisted of publicly explaining – sometimes to the recipient’s face, while they received their award – why he thought someone else should have got the gong.

The month in a Kanye title: No More Parties in LA

November: Cancelled shows (part three) and Trump time (part one)

There will be no armchair diagnosis here, but goodness knows November was not a great month in Westworld. Addressing the crowd at his San Jose show, he said he hadn’t voted in the presidential election, but if he had, he would have voted for Donald Trump. The crowd was unimpressed. Nor, apparently, were they won round by his explanation that a Trump presidency would force racists into the open. A few days later, in Sacramento, he launched into a rant against Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, radio stations and Mark Zuckerberg. He managed to play three songs before walking off stage. And that was that for the Saint Pablo tour, which was rapidly cancelled when West was admitted to hospital to be treated for exhaustion. He stayed for a week before being discharged.

The month in a Kanye title: Lost in the World

December: Grammy politics (part two) and Trump time (part two)

The Grammy nominations were announced, and West had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that he got eight nominations. The bad news was that none of them were in the big categories – record of the year, album of the year, song of the year, or even best urban contemporary album, though he did get a best rap album nod. The worse news was that Frank Ocean didn’t get any nominations, though that was because he didn’t submit an entry before the 30 September cutoff date. We’ll see whether West sticks to his promise to boycott the awards on 12 February. If he was feeling ignored, he could at least take comfort in The Life of Pablo being voted the fourth best album of the year by Guardian critics.

But, hey, Grammys, screw you – West had bigger fish to fry. Not just any big fish, but the biggest fish of all. The whale shark of fried fish. A fish so big you’d need to open a chain of chippies to fry it. And that fish had a name: Donald Trump. It would be fair to say the general reaction when West went to meet the president-elect in Trump Tower – the taste-free skyscraper in Manhattan that is Trump’s Bond-villain lair – was not, “I can’t wait to hear what these two famed purveyors of commonsense have to say,” so much as, “Good God, even he should know this is beyond the pale.” But no; he didn’t think it beyond the pale to replicate the movements of Nigel Farage. The reason for his visit, he said, was to discuss “multicultural issues”, including “bullying, supporting teachers, modernising curriculums and violence in Chicago”. We’re sure Trump has now put them top of his policy agenda. He then signed off with a hashag: #2024. Which surely means West is planning to run for the White House in 2024, after two terms of Trump. On the bright side, it means he seems to have gone back on his threat to run in 2020.

The month in a Kanye title: So Appalled

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Michael Hann, for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th December 2016 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010