Kanye West isn’t the first musician to return from a Twitter hiatus to promote a new album — witness Jay-Z, whose typically dormant account released, last summer, a burst of 13 tweets over 90 minutes listing rappers he liked as part of the rollout for 4:44. But no one posts quite like West: He has a special affinity for Twitter’s immediacy of call and response. Deleted for nearly a year, @kanyewest has now been resurrected: For the past week West has been posting at a rate of roughly ten tweets a day, with his most recent ones announcing two forthcoming albums (one with Kid Cudi) in June.
Kanye’s posts are not, at first glance, complicated. For the most part, they’re trite affirmations of the need to make one’s own “vision” a leading priority that wouldn’t be out of place coming from a B-tier motivational speaker. Intellectual property and creative concepts are a major focus; so, too, is the importance of living, optimistically, in the moment. Mirroring the aesthetic pioneered by West’s idol Steve Jobs, the tweets possess a simplicity that permits them to pass as profound: “don’t trade your authenticity for approval,” runs one.
It’s an interesting tack for Kanye, whose most prominent recent public appearances, prior to his occultation to record new music, involved him coming close to supporting Donald Trump and then meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower. His tweeting out positive sentiments about how life keeps getting better and better and about how there are no real enemies can be read as a repudiation of Trumpian negativity and antagonism, but it’s notable how they also serve as a clever way to dodge criticism for his flirtation with Trump, the emperor of Twitter, in 2016. West’s starry-eyed yes to creation evokes two primary responses. Easy validation for simple thoughts is the most prominent, but there’s also a tendency, among superior types, to add two cents of knowing commentary. But whether it’s the basic retweet or the wry quote-tweet, any question of past responsibility becomes impossible to raise. If you trip hard enough, no one can hold you to account.
So the dumb tweets, it turns out, have a cunning strategy built into them after all. “[I]t’s not where you take things from. it’s where you take them to,” says Kanye; you can practically hear all the water under the bridge. He has reached the point where everything he does will be forgiven him: whether it’s slipshod albums, shoddy fashions, or deluded politics, any bad decisions he can make are effectively eclipsed by his reputation for brilliance, and anyone who tries to bring them up can only be a spoilsport, a hater, “sad!” He may have backed out of politics, but politics has followed him to wherever he is now: the split between an approval that disables all consideration and a toothless condescension rooted in an unmerited sense of one’s own high intelligence is precisely how every political figure is experienced in 2018. However you look at it and whoever you see through it, it’s the two-party system we’re stuck with.
The problem is bigger than Kanye; bigger, even, than the president. It has to do with the social media that empower them, platforms designed to wring profits out of human nature’s lowest impulses: idol worship, self-importance, easy smarts, and the lust for “creativity.” It’s no shock that Twitter founder Jack Dorsey personally welcomed Kanye back to Twitter in a tweet — given how much share value Kanye was adding. Nor was it out of place that Dorsey’s tweet should be the only thing Kanye has liked so far. He’s only human, and where else, if not Twitter, do people rush most rapidly to trade their authenticity for approval?