It was long. It was bizarre. It was chaotic. It was an experience uniquely our own.
On Thursday February 11, I waited in line to watch a livestreamed fashion show. Over 100 devoted fans descended on Rave Cinemas Ypsilanti for a special broadcast of Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.” TLOP, West’s latest studio album, was set to be revealed alongside the next iteration of the artist’s clothing line, Yeezy Season 3. The joint show would be held at Madison Square Garden and beamed by satellite to “select theatres” in the United States. So when tickets went on sale last Thursday, and a select theatre just happened to be a short drive away, I jumped. Not only am I an unabashed Kanye fan, but I also had a feeling that this first-of-its-kind livestream would be a cultural event I’d regret missing. That was all that it took.
The experience began in the lobby. I got to the theatre 20 minutes before showtime and joined a line of Kanye fans dissecting Ye’s career. The audience for a livestreamed fashion show/album release was about what you’d expect: instead of Kiss makeup, this generation’s worshippers donned Sk8-Hi’s and Box Logos. Given streetwear’s reputation for oneupsmanship, there was a real community spirit in the room. People were just happy to be at the event. At 4:00, the doors opened and a line formed outside. After briefly humoring the idea of buying concessions for a fashion show (NYFW probably doesn’t sell popcorn), four friends and I took our seats.
At 4:15, the screen flashed black. KANYE WEST / SEASON 3 appeared. Black again. Suddenly, Madison Square Garden snapped into view. A crowd steadily shuffled into stands as a teeming fabric mass covered center stage. The livestream switched between a foot-level “sneaker cam” in the concourse (spoiler: everyone wore Nike SFB’s) and pans of the Garden.
Then, a murmur rose and a spotlight flashed: the assembled Kardashian-Jenner clan was in the building. The camera jumped to the Kardashian/Jenner women dressed lavishly in Balmain furs. Or perhaps Tauntaun. Google it; sorry Yeezy, them jawnz were hurtful.
A host of celebrities including A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, 50 Cent, and Pusha T began to gather around a production booth on the Garden’s floor. Then, at around 4:50, a 5’7” man in a red shirt blew the crowd wide open. Kanye strolled to the booth of his grand production and, surrounded by friends and neighbors, addressed his people. 20,000 New York bodies listened; untold thousands watched around the globe. In suburban Michigan, 100 Instagram tough guys cheered. Then: silence.
“Ultra Light Beams” began, and my tiny theater of Box Logos went silent. I felt chills listening to the track’s gospel-like choruses. All around me, kids who grew up on Kanye analyzed their idol’s every move, looking for every reason to celebrate. There was a nervous optimism in the air unlike anything I’ve felt before. Except for a teeming fabric mass at center stage, the whole world stood still. Then, the mass joined it.
Around 15 minutes into the show, the curtain quite literally lifted on Yeezy Season 3. Cue theatre cheering. I’ll post my full review of the clothes this weekend, but for the purpose of this post, just assume the hype is real. Just assume. That’s all I’ll say. Whispered voices compared 1 to 3, 2 to 1, and above all else, the shoes to their aspirations. And to quote the man himself: “I mean, it’s the number one shoe though.” Dear Santa: I’ll take the Yeezy 1050’s in RealTree.
Post-clothing reveal, the rest of the album played seemingly at random. My friend, a music critic for our school’s newspaper, compared the show’s asynchrony with the tracklist Kanye had posted on Twitter just a day earlier. Considering Kanye’s reputation as an album rapper, I wish I could have first heard TLOP in proper order. Purity of experience, all that. Barring the shuffled tracklist, The Life of Pablo seemed like a solid effort overall. The production value was stratospherically high. The features (Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, Desiigner, etc.) were all there. The only thing that wasn’t up to snuff: the in-theatre audio track. It’s truly hard to draw judgment on the music itself until I listen to it not over a public address system, but judging by crowd reactions alone, the real standouts include “Wolves”, “Freestyle 4”, and “Feed Back.”
As the album closed and the house lights went up, Kanye again took the mic. The producer-turned-rapper-turned-designer began with a simple assessment: “This is harder than it looks.” He thanked his fans, his wife, and a host of collaborators from Virgil Abloh to Olivier Rousteing for their work making his vision a reality. The Kardashian-Jenner entourage then bowed out in grand (read: ostentatious) fashion.
Just when the show seemed tied up with a bow, Kanye motioned to the Who’s Who of Hip Hop assembled behind him. Smartphones came out. And in front of a worldwide audience, Madison Square Garden turned into the world’s biggest game of “pass the aux cord.” Strange? Only relatively. The true spit-take happened when the fight for music choice was interrupted by a trailer for Kanye’s self-produced video game. My tiny suburban movieplex echoed with laughter as videos tagged tears-of-joy emoji went straight to 100 Snapchat stories. Then, as if nothing had happened, the battle for the aux cord continued. Notable winners: Young Thug, A$AP Rocky. Sorry, Vic Mensa – we just weren’t feeling it. If it’s any consolation, I’m sad they cut your “Wolves” verse.
The show done, the album revealed, and the mood inside MSG winding down, our satellite feed cut out just before 6pm. Just as our theatre filled with 100 excited Box Logos, so did it exit – only this time, the excitement was anything but quiet.
My group headed for the parking lot lost in an analytical conversation so arbitrary only an academic could love. We raved; we ranted; we picked about lyrics we had heard once and already overthought twice. We spanned Kanye’s whole career looking for evidence only to come up speechless when a friend did the same. But most importantly of all, we connected over an experience uniquely our own.
A generation ago, a live broadcast of an album release meant that MTV could sell “Studio Sessions” tapes one month later. A fashion show broadcast to a theater in small-town Michigan would draw newspaper editorials rather than legions of fans. But in 2016, our icons are different. They thrive among the unfamiliar. On paper, we overpaid for movie tickets to worship an ego-driven visionary. But in reality, we did it because he was ours; I’d do it all again for Season 4.
Disclaimer: I don't support 'Ye's recent behavior re: Cosby comments or intimidating members of the press. I am a fan of his music and cultural influence, not his behavior. I hope I was able to convey that view (and that view) alone through this review.