Kanye West premiered his new album 'The Life Of Pablo' -- formerly 'Waves,' formerly 'Swish,' originally 'So Help Me God' -- on Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. I watched the whole thing unfold live.
Not from the Garden, of course. From 16,000 kilometres away, in Sydney. On a big screen in a movie theatre at 8am. With a few hundred Kanye aficionados decked head-to-toe in Yeezy merchandise and shoes.
Going to the movies in the morning is weird enough, let alone turning up for an 8am showing of a album preview-cum-fashion show on the other side of the world. People mill around the front of the cinema, showing off the Yeezy Boost shoes they either lined up for hours to buy in-store or paid hand-over-fist for on the internet. We file into the cinema just before the advertised 8am start, the big screen showing a live-stream of the Madison Square Garden show. We're one of a few dozen cinemas worldwide to be showing the event live. The show is supposed to start at 8am. By 8.30am, all we've seen is people wandering the concourse of MSG and lots of shots of feet -- the cinema crowd cheers every time someone walks past wearing Yeezy Boosts.
Suddenly, the lights dim and the entire Kardashian Klan makes a grand entrance from their wings to their seats. They're all wearing white; Kanye will later tell the crowd that he designed the outfits himself.
Then Kanye himself comes out, wearing a cap with the Metallica-esque logo of his Yeezy brand and a red long-sleeve shirt from his own merchandise collection. He walks to the edge of the arena, pulls out a black laptop and plugs it into the sound system. Billowing covers are pulled away from the centre of the arena to reveal hundreds of models -- some reports put the number at 1000 -- clad in the Yeezy season three line. It's still the Zoolander "derelicte"-esque sparse and rough stuff from seasons past, mostly beige and grey but with splashes of colour in blue and red. The models stand there looking blankly ahead. Nobody really cares because the album has started playing.
Perhaps the whole thing would have made more sense had I seen it live, in the arena with Kanye. Perhaps not. I've never really watched a fashion show before but I'm guessing it's not like this. The camera pans over the models' blank, expressionless faces as Kanye's album plays over the loudspeakers. Beginning with the gospel-like 'Ultra Light Beams' -- Kanye will later tell the audience that the album is "a gospel album" -- complete with church choir, calls to "pray for Paris" and spoken word samples possibly from his own daughter North.
The album features countless references to his family and children. Where previous album 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' was a rumination on fame and infamy and celebrity, and 'Yeezus' a take on race and transcending mere celebrity into proper icon-hood, 'T.L.O.P' is more a celebration of where he is in life; an artist nearly unparalleled in the creative pantheon, unmatched in the scope of his vision and recognised as standing apart from everyone else on earth, married to the most famous woman in the world in Kim Kardashian, with a young daughter and son, with avenues to pursue anything he feels like. He's dropped a lot of the braggadocio and pure ego of previous albums, more assured in his lyrics; everyone already knows he's the best, Kanye thinks, so he doesn't need to tell them anymore.
The quiet and serene opening gives way to pulsing rap beats as the album chugs on, pulling out some proper dancefloor-filler and arena-busting bangers that fuse the British street style of grime with dirtier, slower and bass-heavy hip-hop. He references imagining a rendezvous with Taylor Swift (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous”), talks about getting with models and raps one entire track acapella about how much he loves himself. Most of the album is party music, the tunes you'll be hearing booming from nightclubs and house parties for months to come -- but there's definitely enough of the sweet, tender, Auto-tuned Kanye for old school fans to like it.
It's a bizarre thing to be experiencing this from the wrong side of the world. Each banger track is met with whoops and laughs from the cinema, as audiences wonder aloud who each guest is on each track -- "is that Young Thug? Is that Rihanna? That's Chance The Rapper!" -- and enthusiastically clap for a man who will never hear their cheers. As Kanye's trademark silly lyrics pulse through the cinema (the Taylor Swift and "Kanye Loves Kanye" lyrics are the best examples) the crowd dissolves into giggles.
"You know, I think because I'm a celebrity you think this shit is easy to do. One of the hardest things to do is to get the most creative people to roll with a rapper," he yells into the microphone.
The biggest laugh is reserved for toward the end, though. After the album is done playing, after Kanye has gone back and replayed a few songs just because he can, after he passes the aux cord to a few of his entourage standing behind him to play songs OFF THEIR iPHONES like they're at a house party, he gives the weirdest reveal of the night; that he's making a video game about his late mother ascending to heaven as an angel and entering the pearly gates. The entire crowd lost it at that point, with the earnest face of Kanye belying just how bizarre it all was. Then, just as you think he's making a joke, he plays a trailer for the game on the big screen.
It was at this point I left, unable to take anymore. Some cinema-goers were doubled over in laughter at this point. It was the most bizarre cinema experience of my life, but the video game -- "coming soon" -- alone was well worth the ticket price.