Somewhere between the routine and the extraordinary, all eyes were on Kanye West again last week.
After his headlining performance at Governor’s Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island, NYC was cancelled due to “severe weather and a high likelihood of lightning,” Kanye took to Twitter to announce a pop-up performance at Webster Hall, a prospect that would be sure to turn a disheartening cancellation into a euphoric display of spontaneity.
Show at 2am SOLD OUT
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) June 6, 2016
Despite having already seen acts like De La Soul, Mac Miller and Big Grams (which consists of Hip Hop’s progressive odd-couple Big Boi + Phantogram) perform on the previous days of the festival, ticket holders and New York City residents at large were not satiated enough to pack it in and call it a night. It was after all Kanye West’s name that appeared first and foremost on the Gov Ball promotional flyer, a testament to both his massive catalog of chart-smothering hits and his indelible celebrity status, though not necessarily in that order.
Music aside, most of the irresistible buzz surrounding Kanye comes from the entirely unpredictable combination of his imagination, ego and temper. While his imagination catalyzes illustrious pieces of art (see Graduation’s “Good Morning” video collaboration with renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami) his ego often overshadows the projects while his temper imbues the work with varying hues of discontent.
When people attend a Kanye show or even a Kanye inspired event, like his Madison Square Garden Life of Pablo/Yeezy 3 blowout or recent SoHo pop-up shop (Kanye’s affinity for the pop-up-ethos is a motif that we haven’t seen the last of) they are of course interested in the work itself, but are probably far more interested in being at the center of the pop-culture pulse. Rest assured, if Kanye sneezes, TMZ will probably buy the video and if he sneezes twice, Pitchfork will probably name it Best New Music.
So almost predictably, after the cancellation of his performance at Governor’s Ball, Kanye announced an impromptu pop-up performance to instead perform at Webster Hall. As covered by The Source, that day the G.O.O.D. music team had made a surprise showing at HOT 97’s Summer Jam to perform, while Creative Director Virgil Abloh teased out rapidly-redacted details for a 2AM Manhattan show to follow.
These elements combined, along with additional teasers from Pusha T, 2 Chainz and Kim Kardashian West sent New York City’s East Village into a hurried frenzy, as thousands of ‘Ye fans swept into the streets in order to catch the performance, with low estimates of 4,000 people and more generous approximations quoting 7,000 attendees. An onslaught of coverage for the impending event was inevitable as well, with practically every major media outlet covering the happenings second by second as they unfolded, along with a swarm of live-location tweets, Instagram posts and enough viral fodder to make Justin Bieber blush. Endless tidbits were instantly posted online with perhaps the most significant contribution going widely overlooked, a perfectly quaint observation from Chance The Rapper’s manager, Patrick Corcoran:
i just saw Kanye ride out the moonroof. I was eating a turkey wrap at 11th and 3rd. he saw me.
— fleekwood pat (@patthemanager) June 6, 2016
Kanye’s grown quite accustomed to having this sort of pop-culture stranglehold, especially when further emboldened by Kim, who single-handedly possesses enough Twitter followers to turn the heads of major media with a literal bat of her eyelashes. So after a missed call to Bill de Blasio, a tweet coming directly from the Webster Hall venue urging people to “please get home safely” and numerous other safety concerns, the performance at Webster Hall was finally cancelled once and for all.
— TeamKanyeDaily (@TeamKanyeDaily) June 6, 2016
Even though the performance was ultimately a wash, it did create some standout moments that shed light on the stark power of modern-day celebrity. Like a Roman gladiator standing atop a gold encrusted chariot, Kanye poked his head out of the sunroof, making a brief appearance but not much more. As his motorcade left and took off down the city streets of New York, his devoted fans took off after him with a dedication usually reserved for a pope or other modern-day deity.
In this age, a single tweet can gain exponential coverage instantly while literally catalyzing the movement of people off of their couches and into the streets. Which is an incredible power, so long as spectacle doesn’t spill into physical violence or a full-fledged riot. So on East 11th Street in front of Webster Hall, Kanye came and went, sweeping the pop-culture pulse right up along with him. Fans couldn’t help but sprint after him, unable to resist the allure of ultimate relevance; the idea that Kanye’s status alone gives off a transitive sense of purpose to all that surround him.
— Eric Liang (@hiEricLiang) June 6, 2016
The subtle irony comes of course, because while they chase Kanye West, Kanye’s already off chasing something too.
Always looking for the next best thing, whatever that may be.
Original Illustration by oli Hb
Visuals by Richie Williamson