by David Turner and Meaghan Garvey
Last night, MTV’s own David Turner and Meaghan Garvey attended the Yeezy Season 3/The Life of Pablo listening party at Madison Square Garden. This is their report.
DT: From my seat, it was hard to tell if this was a music event, a fashion show, or an overtly underthought art installation -- in effect, it was all three. Kanye called The Life of Pablo a “gospel” album, and the rumble of “Ultra Light Beams” made me regret too many Sundays skipping church. I was ready for Kanye’s journey wherever he wanted to go. By the end -- after Chance the Rapper’s cameo, after the amazing vocal screeching from The Weeknd, that industrial gnash of “FML” -- when “Real Friends” came on, it just reassured us that, no matter the chaos, Kanye undoubtedly knows music. The emotional resonance of TLOP was unmatched. So. How did you feel by the end of “Wolves (CDQ)”?
MG: Up until about 3:45 p.m. today, it felt like there was everything to lose and very little to gain -- was any Kanye fan excited for this? And so I felt a bit grim walking into MSG, presuming that Kanye "the spectacle" had officially eclipsed Kanye "the most important musician of this decade." I don’t know if that reflects more on Deep Dad Phase Kanye or on the preemptively reactive tenor of the rap Internet, but I was exhausted well before this business had begun. And after? I feel replenished, wholly. And light! Of all the things I was expecting, FUN was not one of them. But it was a weird sort of fun, right? I don’t think it was just the spotlights that gave several of the models tears in their eyes in their big-screen close-ups. But why?
DT: Kanye seemed happy! Once he pressed play, Travis, Pusha T, and all of his other musical family looked hyped to be there. Listening parties aren’t fun, but clearly Kanye and those around him were caught up in the emotion of the moment. When the models broke their stilted poses and started dancing, too, it was hard to not follow their lead. Once the album closed, Kanye gave thanks and then played unreleased stuff from Vic Mensa and Young Thug as if it were a rooftop BBQ and someone just handed him the aux cord. That it was even ostensibly a fashion show felt off; beyond Lil Yachty in his bright red sweatshirt, it was hard to focus on the clothes with all that was going on in the arena. Did you come away with anything fashion, models, art, or otherwise beyond “this album sounds amazing”?
MG: It took me a few minutes to recognize that it wasn’t a super-blasé Young Thug look-alike but in fact Thug hisself modeling a duckling-yellow shearling in the front of the stage. Within the “fashion” element of this, these choices that Kanye and Beecroft and his team have made favor detachment and enigma more than sexiness. We know -- we saw the jacket, ugh -- that Kanye fancies himself punk now. I guess? But what I felt when I looked at his “zine pronounced zeen,” which felt bland and bougie in the name of #Art, was not what I felt when I looked at these models. I felt scorched earth. I felt apocalypse. And these aren’t new aesthetics for Kanye, though the color palette was a bit more passionate here: warm oranges and maroons instead of the cool neutrals and olives of his last collection. And listen: Ian Connor smoking a cigarette, I don’t know if that’s rebellion. It’s probably not. But there is a smoldering to this kind of detachment: the way these models’ eyes were blank and teary at once. I’m not sure if that related to the music, or to the feeling of Kanye standing on the precipice saying “Everything you have said about me and my problematic nature, I now render irrelevant.”
DT: Personal bias up front, I’m fine with this overblown rock-star persona Kanye’s developed over the years. But Kanye isn’t my dad. Kanye isn’t a moral goal post for me. Listening to this album, I was reminded that Kanye is an amazing musician and producer first and foremost, and everything else is tertiary. This is a cop-out to real criticism, but when the opening of “Real Friends” started, I couldn’t help but think: “He did it again.”
MG: The pre-Pablo clamor around his ill-advised tweets felt so loud. Yeezus was, in an aesthetic sense, “divisive,” but it wasn’t like now -- now people are anticipating the end of Kanye. I get that -- I felt it too. But what I thought about most as I listened to this album, other than banging my head -- because listen, there are probably more bangers on this album than anything Ye’s released since Graduation -- was that it was the end of the way we process things here on the part of the Internet that digests music. To me, this was an icy cooler of Gatorade poured victoriously on the hot-take sector of criticism. Couldn’t you just feel 100 think-piece drafts being dragged to the trash? I don’t know if I “love” Kanye in 2016. I want to, but I don’t know if I can. He’s a dorky dad, he’s *watches Akira once.* And as it turns out, none of that affects how his music makes me feel, which is to say, ALIVE. A believer in spite of nearly insurmountable odds. Which … so … is this a gospel album, then? Can he say that?
DT: I fell on the side against Yeezus. I stopped feeling like a stan for Kanye around then, but this show rebirthed my standom. He put Frank Ocean, Kirk Franklin, and Post-Racial Malone on the same album, where he also placed Lil Yachty next to Slim Jesus. Kanye is exhausting, but seriously, #whatatimetobealive.
MG: THAT WAS SLIM JESUS?!
MG: Again I say: Let us let Kanye -- reluctantly, and with one eye woken -- lead us into the era of cold takes. I’ve been obsessing over this list of guidelines for the models that Karen Civil posted:
It’s like Jenny Holzer for the era of performative hypebeast cool. “Alternate between attention and ease.” “Do not act cool.” “No fast movements. No slow movements.” Is this all a big pseudo-artsy jerkoff motion? I don’t know, but I prefer it to whatever poses we’ve got. So, what was your favorite part of all of this?
DT: Right now seeing this list that says “IF YOU ARE TIRED, SIT DOWN OR LYE DOWN” [sic] and all I can think is that none sat the entire show and that probably best expresses the high I’m still feeling hours later.
MG: It all felt like too much of a rush to narrow down a favorite track -- the intro, the Weeknd-featuring aggro tearjerker, the Sister Nancy–sampling Rihanna burner --but the part where I lost it and had to let some tears spill was “Real Friends.” I know, it’s kind of a boring choice. But something about those introductory notes threaded the needle between every Kanye I’ve known and the one that was standing here now, jumping up and down with his friends, looking like every struggling DJ playing an embarrassing set in Brooklyn to his four closest bros. And then, after it all, he previewed a 30-second clip of his video game, the concept of which revolves around his mom passing through the gates of heaven. It’s cheesy and ridiculous and a knife to the heart at once. It’s Kanye. That guy we can’t shake.