Attention-starved hip hop genius Kanye West has a complicated relationship with Twitter. If you’re amongst Kanye’s 10,000,000 or so followers, then you can probably understand that his Twitter feed is far from a steady stream of content. Rather, in tandem with promotional posts regarding song and album releases, are sporadic burst of thoughts and often, rage.
KING OF UNI-DIRECTIONALITY
Twitter is often framed as a medium that allows for online social networking and microblogging. As Zizi Papacharissi states in her article “Without You I’m Nothing”, “presentations of the self […] become networked performances that must convey polysemic content to audiences.” However, Kanye has ignored altogether the aspect of Twitter that allows for sociality. Instead of posting to what Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd characterize as an “imagined audience“, Kanye uses Twitter as a broadcast medium, without much regard to who reads his tweets. Moreover, he has capitalized on Twitter’s affordance of uni-directional ties, only following one user, Kim Kardashian.
Kanye, simply, does not care at all about the public display of connections that Nicole Ellison and Boyd attribute as an integral aspect of social media in “Sociality Through Social Network Sites.” In doing so, he positions himself as an arbiter of taste, dictating to his following his values and preferences. Similar to what Hugo Liu discusses in “Social Network as Taste Performances,” Kanye attempts to gain respect and admiration through cultural capital. In particular, he employs prestige and differentiated taste statements in constructing his online identity as someone who, in his words, is “God’s vessel.” Foremost, he engages in tweets that connote prestige by situating his content as the most respected within mainstream culture. For instance, in a recent tweet, he argues that one of his songs New Slaves, has made rap history. And let’s also not forget his stream of tweets in which he played the role of a fashion police:
In disseminating his tweets, Kanye is also able to differentiate himself amongst other celebrity tweeters. This is because he has established the use of capital letters as his own personal signature. Therefore, when Kanye posts, people know it is Kanye West and they know it is written in such a way “BECAUSE [HIS] CAPS LOCK KEY IS LOUD!!!!!!!”
TIRADE AGAINST TWITTER
Despite Kanye’s current prominence on Twitter, it is important to note that he was not also so fond of the microblogging site. In 2009, he wrote a blog post decrying Twitter’s services:
DON’T HAVE A F***ING TWITTER… WHY WOULD I USE TWITTER??? I ONLY BLOG 5 PERCENT OF WHAT I’M UP TO IN THE FIRST PLACE. I’M ACTUALLY SLOW DELIVERING CONTENT BECAUSE I’M TOO BUSY ACTUALLY BUSY BEING CREATIVE MOST OF THE TIME AND IF I’M NOT AND I’M JUST LAYING ON A BEACH I WOULDN’T TELL THE WORLD. EVERYTHING THAT TWITTER OFFERS I NEED LESS OF.
Originally, he used his blog as a means of putting out press releases and showcasing what he was thinking at a given time. Subsequently, he realized that it was easier for him to jump onto a platform that aggregated him amongst other celebrities rather than existing in the demarcated space that he preferred. Concurrently, he continues to use Twitter in an isolated fashion to placate his desire for individualism. As Limor Shifman discusses in “Memes in Digital Culture,” Kanye’s move to Twitter is associated with our society’s shift toward an “attention economy.” While, there may not be any immediate economic worth to what Kanye is tweeting, there is tremendous value attributed to the attention that it receives.
KANYE THE BRAND
Through participating in this attention based economy, Kanye attempts to use the metrics that his tweets receive in order to legitimize his status as a brand. By controlling the flow of information Kanye separates himself from his audience and recreates the paradigm of broadcast media, casting himself as a cultural creator rather than engaging in a community.
With a Twitter that never goes beyond thirty or so tweets, Kanye cultivates his minimalistic persona through constantly deleting and editing the content that is on it. He is not unaware of the permanence and replicability that Nancy Baym states characterizes social media today. In fact, the majority of his tweets have been reproduced and archived in some fashion or another. Rather, he deletes his tweets because he is more interested in using Twitter as an episodic platform to broadcast information, rather than record a conversation — which is why tweets such as the famous “Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on” only exist on his page for a few days. Moreover, he knows that his declarative statements and their implications, or lack thereof, will live on long after they’ve been deleted.
KANYE IN FLUX: CONSTANTLY DELETING YET CONSTANTLY POSTING
In applying Pierre Bourdieu‘s forms of capital, we know that Kanye’s success as a hip-hop artist has accrued him economic capital, and arguably, some respect of social capital that he strongly seeks. However, his cultural capital does not match with the socially constructed notion of the elite. While, he “wants to retain his street cred,” he also wants to own the “first trillion dollar company.” This situation presents a dialectic between his desires to maintain credibility against his self portrayal as “product person,” culminating in a persona that is constantly in flux. Therefore, Kanye’s Twitter goes beyond a platform in which he brands himself. His ever-changing feed in which tweets are constantly deleted and posted represents an “identity-in-action,” in which he is constantly grappling with who he is and how he wants to be perceived.