Jan. 27: In response to tweets by rapper Wiz Khalifa alleging that Kanye’s new proposed album title (“Waves”) plagiarizes the catchphrase (“wavy”) of rapper Max B, Kanye unleashes a Twitter rant proclaiming that he is “the greatest artist of all time” and that Khalifa has “distracted from my creative process.” He will later change the title of the album (previously called “So God Help Me” and “SWISH”) to “The Life of Pablo.”
Feb. 9: Without explanation or context, Kanye tweets: “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!”, joining Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, and Damon Wayans among the ranks of celebrities standing up for the comedian accused of rape by 59 women.
Feb. 11: “Yeezy Season 3,” a combined fashion show and album premiere party, takes place at Madison Square Garden. The catwalk models, showcasing Kanye’s refugee-inspired athleisure line, are required to stand still and abide by strict rules of conduct (put forth by a 38-point memo leaked to the media)—including “NO FAST MOVEMENTS,” “NO SLOW MOVEMENTS,” “DO NOT BE CASUAL,” “DO NOT ACT COOL,” and “YOU ARE A PICTURE”—as an unfinished version of “The Life of Pablo” plays in its entirety over the stadium speakers. According to promotional materials, the event is simulcast on 700 cinema screens around the world. The online broadcast crashes, however, and fans who bought tickets to the event with the promise of an included album download report that the digital files have yet to materialize.
Feb. 13: Kanye performs on Saturday Night Live, announcing at the end of “Ultralight Beam” that “The Life of Pablo” is now for sale as a digital download at kanyewest.com and on Tidal, Jay Z’s subscription-based music service that everyone hates.
Feb. 14: In the hours following SNL, Kanye removes the download link from his website, limiting “The Life of Pablo” to Tidal exclusively. Due to technical difficulties, thousands of customers, having paid $20 each to Tidal for the album, receive nothing in return; many additionally report that they’ve been double-charged or have been charged a multitude of unexplained service fees. Those who are able to download the album receive a glitchy version not containing the final track.
Feb. 15: Reacting to a line from “The Life of Pablo” in which Kanye speculates that Taylor Swift may one day sleep with him out of gratitude for the fame she gained when he interrupted her VMA acceptance in 2009, Swift gives the following speech while receiving the award for Album of the Year at the Grammys: “As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you’ll know it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.” Employing the framework of an “inspirational feminist message for girls” in order to publicly settle a petty personal score with a mentally ill man, Swift is widely applauded in spite of the transparently self-involved, apolitical nature of the remark and the tone-deaf falseness of its “outreach” (as if having a rapper “take credit for your fame” were a relatable problem for kids). Kanye is not present at the ceremony, boycotting the Grammys for their refusal to guarantee him a victory in the Album of the Year category, though he’s in fact ineligible for the award, having not released an album.
Feb. 15 (cont.): Live-tweeting the Grammys, Daily Show host Trevor Noah introduces the popular idea that performer “Kendrick [Lamar] is what Kanye would have been if the Kardashians didn’t get him,” presenting Kanye’s wife within the misogynistic folkloric tradition of the Siren/Succubus and Kanye’s marriage as an amoral temptress’s seduction/consumption of a once-principled man. Simultaneously, he crystallizes the notion of Kendrick Lamar’s rigorously depersonalized, politically pandering, determinedly “virtuous” art as the “correct” path for black entertainers, implicitly denying Kanye the permission traditionally granted white musicians to be vain, irresponsible eccentrics.
Feb. 16: It becomes clear that Kanye is still putting the finishing touches on “The Life of Pablo”: “A partial version of the album is available for streaming,” announces an email from Tidal, “but the download is not currently available. The final version will be released in the next several days.” On Twitter, however, Kanye has already proclaimed that the album “will never be for sale,” implying that it’ll exist solely in streaming format on Tidal, where high-fidelity subscriptions cost $19.99 per month. This means that, for the consumer, his music will be available only as a series of Internet-dependent transmissions, not as a collection of personally stored and playable-at-will files (let alone as a physical disc) and that therefore, you can purchase temporary, subscription-based “access” to the album, but you cannot own it except through piracy. By general estimation, more than half a million people download “The Life of Pablo” illegally, and reviews are largely very positive.
Feb. 16 (cont.): Kanye announces on Twitter that he is $53 million in debt, somehow. Publicly, he begs Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to “invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas.” This request is widely mocked, and Americans fall over themselves to express their disdain for Kanye, who presents a rare and unmissable opportunity for covert racists, as his personal transgressions against “common sense” allow for unlimited public vituperation without fear that said vituperation will be attributed to racism (Obama himself once called Kanye a “jackass”).
Feb. 17: Audio from a backstage rant during Kanye’s SNL episode appears on the Internet. He calls Taylor Swift “fake” and claims that he is, “by 50 percent, more influential than any other human being” dead, alive, or to be born in the next thousand years. He names film director Stanley Kubrick and biblical personage Paul the Apostle among the cultural figures whose importance is dwarfed by his own.