Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, held the Yeezy Season 9 show for Paris Fashion Week on Oct. 3, which featured models wearing t-shirts printed with the phrase “white lives matter.”
The phrase, which is a reactionary statement to Black Lives Matter, has been categorized by the Anti-Defamation League as hate speech.
This featured statement, along with his appearance with right-wing political commentator Candace Owens, sparked backlash among many prominent figures in the fashion world. Jaden Smith notably walked out of his show, and Gigi Hadid called the fashion designer and musician a “bully and a joke.”
Ye has a long history of provocative, often contradictory behavior that brings him publicity. In 2005, he went off-script during a benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims, saying, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Conversely in 2018, he gained attention for wearing a Make America Great Again hat and meeting with former President Donald Trump.
It’s clear this latest stunt is a display of Ye’s grandiose persona. Before starting his show, he said, “you can’t manage me… this is an unmanageable situation.” He clearly acts under the assumption that there will be no consequences to his actions.
When artists face backlash for their behavior, it sparks conversations on separating the art from the artist, but when an artist — Ye, as an example — is so contradictory, it’s difficult to decipher what the artist even stands for.
To a certain extent, nothing Ye says really matters. His frequent contradictions make it hard to even know what to think about him. It’s possible he does this intentionally – provoking people from every angle in an attempt to cancel out anything but press coverage.
While Ye’s music still hits the billboards, his most commercially successful days appear to be behind him. On top of other aspects of his personal life, it’s very possible that his stunt at Paris Fashion Week is simply a “hail mary pass” in an effort to stay relevant.
Apart from clear references to Christianity, most of Ye’s political statements are nowhere to be found in his music. There is no ideological requirement to consume his music, so all press is, of course, good press.
Just because contradiction and provocation are part of Ye’s persona, it doesn’t mean his actions always come without consequences.
Like any display of white supremacist messaging, Ye’s show absolutely has the potential to cause harm. He has a very active fanbase, and parroting “white lives matter” could spark more white nationalist sentiments. Should any devoted fan commit a racially motivated crime, Ye may share in some of this responsibility.
Ye’s talent and influence is undeniable, and he is well aware that people are going to listen to his music regardless of what he says. He walks a dangerous tightrope with stunts like the Paris fashion show, but he’s right about one thing. He is a master of the unmanageable situation.