Culture

Kanye West has mastered Twitter like nobody else

The legendary artist jerks us around on social media, and everybody loves it.

Culture

Kanye West has mastered Twitter like nobody else

The legendary artist jerks us around on social media, and everybody loves it.
Culture

Kanye West has mastered Twitter like nobody else

The legendary artist jerks us around on social media, and everybody loves it.

Kanye West has quit Twitter many times, but he always comes back. This weekend, he returned to dispense some life lessons, as well as comment on some of his tattoo and sneaker designs — a burst of activity that was treated like an event. “Hey @kanyewest Thank You For Coming Back To Twitter,” tweeted Jaden Smith, echoing similar tweeted sentiments from hundreds of elated fans.

West treats his Twitter and social media accounts like his own personal whiteboard, wiping it clean and abandoning it only to return later unannounced. Artists like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift wield suspense similarly in their own social media practices, but whereas Swift’s 2017 wiping of her social media accounts and Beyoncé’s periodical, artsy Instagram posts have a highly-curated, pointedly promotional feel, West’s tweets give the impression of having sprung straight from his personal journals and sketchbooks. The scarcity of his posts combined with their seeming lack of restraint create a messianic effect, one that West stans are all too eager to embrace.

West joined Twitter in July 2010. While he has deleted all of his early tweets, archives show just how prolific and unbridled of a user the rapper used to be. From tweets about lavish spending to apologies to random, throwaway musings about loud clapping, West used to tweet like any other celebrity. But beginning in 2016, West began embracing the delete button along with periodic breaks. Whereas his wife Kim Kardashian-West built an empire on creating the illusion of intimacy by producing a large volume of social media content, West dangles intimacy in front of us like a headstrong cat. He doesn’t just delete his posts when he’s in PR cleanup mode (though sometimes he does that too); he does it at random, adding a mysterious quality to everything he shares.

His unconventional use of Twitter and Instagram only add to a personal allure and almost mythical online history. West’s late aughts public blog is now the stuff of beloved but lost internet memories. In 2015, his revelation that he has a Tumblr set off a hunt for the closely-guarded site. Memory of his now-deleted Twitter “rants” and squabbles — such as his 2016 one with Wiz Khalifa — live on only in screenshots, blogs, and the memories of the people who witnessed them in real time.

“you may be talented, but you're not kanye west”
a now-deleted 2012 tweet from @kanyewest

Perhaps more than any other celebrity of his caliber, however, West appears uninhibited in being explosively messy online. Who can forget how, in the days leading up to the release of his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo, West tweeted “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!.” It’s when that personal messiness shades into unpolished creativity, though, that things get really interesting. This same period of unfettered social media posting also became one of the most fascinating album rollouts in recent memory. Fans got to look in on West’s creative process in real time as he posted evolving shots of a handwritten album tracklist on Twitter along with updates on the album’s handful of title changes.” This is not the album of the year. This is the album of the life,” he tweeted in January 2016.

The period was labelled “sloppy” and “chaotic”, but its drawing power was undeniable. For a time in 2016, music fans’ eyes were glued to West’s Twitter account, which is perhaps what made his hiatus beginning March of the following year feel like such a loss, both for people who live for celebrity drama and people who want to better understand the way West’s mind works.

Before the hiatus, Week took a similarly irreverent approach to his Instagram, treating it as a personal mood board more than a PR update page. He joined the platform in September 2016, but didn’t use it until that November when he posted 99 contextless screenshots from old Maison Martin Margiela catalogues. As with his Twitter, he deleted the account in March 2017 only to return this year with an unannounced, 7-hour Valentine’s Day posting spree of caption-less pitcures of celebrity couples. The photos were entirely deleted two days later.

With his recent return to Twitter, West has revisited a format that has served him well: grand and often vague declarations on creativity in general and his own talent specifically. “often people working with the existing consciousness are jealous of those who are more in touch and they become hard-core capitalist in hopes of creating the illusion that the value of money is worth more than the value of time and friends,” he tweeted on April 15, during his latest posting burst. Seeing it, I can’t help but think of his previous messages in the same vein: In 2016, he tweeted, “My tweets are a form of contemporary art only compromised by people trying to tell me what to tweet and not to tweet…” and “I have no interest in working with anyone who is too important or too good or too traditional to take a call at 3am.”

There’s no telling how long West’s current presence on the site will last. The threat of his disappearance makes the otherwise unremarkable tweets seem almost precious. Right now, West is supposedly at work on a new album in Wyoming, after taking a long hiatus from public life following an extremely bizarre (and eventually repudiated) attempt to get in with Donald Trump. If he weren’t a musical genius, his trips into and out of social media world would just be annoying, like the friend who publicly announces they are leaving Facebook at least two times a year. The fact that West has made some of the best music of the 21st century makes his fast and loose use of social media something else — a statement on the myth making power of ostentatious self-effacement in an overshare era — no matter how unplanned his entire “strategy” may be.

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