Why I think Kanye West's presidential bid is actually about selling albums and clothes
West knows his outbursts, comments and fashion choices can shepherd headlines. And he knows how to make the attention work for him
Eyes rolled, foreheads wrinkled and heads shook on Saturday when Kanye West announced he would run for the US presidency. Not in 2024, no: he plans to run this year.
It was the strangest bit of news this week: but only this week, because in this maelstrom of a year, we’ve become inured to the weird.
The Ultralight Beam rapper, 43, chose to announce the news on Twitter on July 4, aka US Independence Day. Contrived timing.
“We must now realise the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future,” West said in the tweet. “I am running for president of the United States. #2020vision.”
Many dismiss West’s Twitter outbursts, speeches and announcements as rants. But that is to underestimate him. West is a wizard of stirring media attention so he can piggyback the promotion of an upcoming album or business deal as his mentions rise.
This is what I think he’s doing with his West 2020 bid. Let me explain...
After West announced his 2020 Vision, Elon Musk – founder of Tesla and fellow fan of controversial tweets – endorsed his run for president, tweeting: “You have my full support!” Much less surprising was Kim Kardashian’s nod of approval; she replied to West’s announcement with an emoji of the US flag.
Is West sincere? Well, he’s very late to the race. He’s already missed the deadline for running for the Democrats or the Republicans, which means he has to run as an independent.
If he wants to see his name on the ballot alongside Donald Trump – who he’s supported in the past – and Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden, he has his work cut out for him, and time isn’t on his side.
Of course, his running could also be a way to take votes away from Biden, a tactic that would favour Trump. West has endorsed Trump in the past and has visited the White House, where he was pictured wearing a “Make American Great Again!” hat.
I don’t think West is serious about setting up shop in the Oval Office. Sure, we may still see his name on the ballot but, to West, joining the presidential race could be nothing more than an elaborate marketing ploy for his upcoming album, God’s Country.
It is interesting that he announced his bid mere days after releasing a new single, Wash Us in the Blood with Travis Scott. He has more than music to promote right now, too: he just signed a deal with American clothing brand Gap for an upcoming collection.
‘My next trick will be a slightly modified version of my last trick’
This also isn’t the first time that West has declared his intentions to run for president.
In August 2015, after receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, West took to the stage to deliver an epic rant that went viral mostly because of its closing remark:
“It’s about ideas, bro. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth. And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
Six months later, his critically acclaimed The Life of Pablo – three years in the making – was released.
In the week leading up to its release, West proclaimed it as not only the album of the year but the “album of the life”, and then took on Wiz Khalifa in a fiery and bizarre Twitter feud, before writing in caps “Bill Cosby is innocent” with a flurry of exclamation marks.
West may be controversial, but he’s far from unpredictable.
He knows his outbursts, comments and fashion choices can shepherd headlines. And he knows how to make the attention work for him.
He had a similar approach in 2018, a month before the release of his eighth studio album, Ye. It was a tumultuous promotional cycle, even by Kanye standards – he returned from a Twitter hiatus, singing praise for everyone from Trump to the Hindu spiritual guru Amma Mata.
Then he appeared on TMZ and spewed out infamous remarks on slavery, saying it “sounds like a choice”.
West knows controversy attracts media attention, and he knows media attention can help promote sales. He is a vanguard of the phrase “no such thing as bad publicity” and there’s nothing like announcing a bid to become president to turn heads.
As the US poet Hanif Abdurraqib said in a tweet: “Have to say I am once again surprised to see that there are many people who appear to be unfamiliar with an album promotion cycle”. He followed this tweet by writing: “... and for my next trick, I am going to be performing a slightly modified version of my last trick”.
I am inclined to concur with Abdurraqib. But, then again, given the Slinky-like turns and twists this year has taken, I could be completely wrong with regards to West’s intentions, and by the end of the year, we may be referring to him as the 46th president of the US.
Stranger things have happened.
Updated: July 8, 2020 08:30 AM