Kanye West & The Social Media Experiment…And Media Regurgitation
Nothing Kanye West has said on Twitter in the past year or so can be believed, right up through today’s Taylor Swift explainer. He revealed and changed his album title three times (So Help Me God, SWISH, Waves) before landing on the final name (The Life Of Pablo), all revealed on Twitter. He shared the tracklist on Twitter. Then changed it. Then changed it again. Then changed it again after “debuting” the “finished” album. He tweeted that his album is the best of all time, only to backtrack a week later. His wife tweeted that we’d hear a new song every Friday ahead of the release; we did not. Via Twitter, he denied that he enjoys butt play, despite evidence to the contrary. Today (February 12), he said the album is being mastered and will be released later in the day, and still nobody knows if this will actually happen. Certainly not in physical form, we know that.
T.L.O.P.: 10 takeaways from Kanye's album premiere
And this is sort of revolutionary, because as comical and obnoxious as the lead-up to his seventh album has been, let’s take a second to remember there have been no song leaks, no album leaks, not even a tracklist leak, nary an album title leak even after he gave us a hint. Just a lot of false leads and an ever-changing, fluid situation, up to the minute that it is finished. And a mess of free publicity thanks to the news outlets parroting his tweets for posts.
So maybe this was a genius strategy. He figures, if you never know what to believe, and what’s being worked on, it’s harder to spring a leak. Or maybe it was all off-the-cuff. Or maybe it’s more cynical than that, a way of toying with music coverage in the social media era (we already know of Kanye’s disdain for bloggers). The point is, there’s now a wide spectrum of options when it comes to artists flinging unsubstantiated, unconfirmed bullshit into the social media ocean in order to spark a media feeding frenzy, sharks gobbling up this uncorroborated chum.
Before Kanye’s TLOP Twitter free-for-all, The 1975 stoked breakup rumors by posting a comic strip that seemed to serve as their farewell, and they subsequently deleted all prior posts. It got the requisite coverage. Father John Misty stunt-covered Ryan Adams stunt-covering Taylor Swift just so he could watch the music media run around in circles to cover it (“I went and gave them the most fraudulent, the most blatantly absurd, unprintable piece of surrealistic nonsense – and they printed it!”). Even the noble Adele lands on the spectrum: She lied to us about 25 coming in 2014 with a tweet. It got the requisite coverage.
But the kings of gaming the system are Death Grips. There’s an argument to be made that more than a music group, Death Grips is a social media experiment meant to expose the “update” music “news” economy, a world in which any D-grade artist can release literal commercials for songs and sites will breathlessly cover them as “teasers” and “snippets.” Death Grips have taken this to its logical extreme, showing any dubiousness they post will be farmed out as a clusterfuck of content. Anything! They posted an erect penis as an album cover, it got the requisite coverage. They shared confidential corporate correspondence, it got the requisite coverage. They announced a fake tour. A year later, they announced their breakup on Facebook, with no intention of actually breaking up. It all got the requisite coverage. Six months later, they dropped an entirely new instrumental album. The #content makers were flummoxed, but still covered it. Then their “final” album dropped months after their “breakup.” They did an honest-to-god tour exactly a year after the “breakup,” then announced yet another new album would be released, over a year after “breaking up.” No doubt they are wondering when this will enter the “boy who cried wolf” stage with the online media. But it will never reach that stage, because the content farm requires perpetual motion.
Which brings us back to Kanye. West has further illustrated that there is no bullshit threshold when it comes to websites taking artists’ online asides and momma-bird spewing it out to readers as Actual Information. He throws out his misinformation, knowingly or not, and watches all the headlines fly by on sites like ours within minutes (let’s be honest he’s not reading Idolator). Then without warning he changes it, announcing the news through the very same unreliable channel, and all this calibrated, SEO-dependent coverage, all the tags and legacy posts are all completely and utterly fucked. With each change-up, some poor blogger’s night is annihilated. The guy had fans guess his album title — he is quite literally playing games with us, and it is beautiful.
Whether episodes like this are calculated or a byproduct of indecision or creative restlessness, it still highlights how unreliable the unfiltered brain-to-fans line of communication is, and it highlights the futility and stupidity driving all of this. What is even the point of all these music sites? Why track down a source at the label or inside the G.O.O.D. Music cabal when we have Kanye feeding us info? React react react. You need us less than ever. I mean, the few times in this era when there were big stories to uncover — the surprise release of Beyonce, or David Bowie‘s final album and health status — nobody got the scoop. So what are we even doing here?
We’re basically just canvassing the big stars’ accounts, pilot fish waiting for morsels that we can trumpet in an SEO-friendly headline and a few tweets utilizing the curiosity gap. When we’re not the thinking emoji, ready to give you a thinkpiece like this at a moment’s notice, we’re the regurgitators, we’re a redundancy.
The Life Of Pablo isn’t even out yet, but I already know I’ll remember it as the first major album that truly and completely thrived by tapping into the absurd, interminable whirring of this social media hype cycle in real-time. It doesn’t matter how many times Kanye or Death Grips or any other artist teases us or outright deceives us: As long as those Twitter fingers are active, we’ll all fill our role. The wheel in the TL keeps on turning.