The Strife Of Pablo: Why Kanye's Listening Party Was A Total Joke

£15 quid for a glorified fashion parade in a Stratford Vue? Oh...
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£15 quid for a glorified fashion parade in a Stratford Vue? Oh...

Kanye West has sold out Stratford Vue. Granted, Screen 9 isn’t the biggest stage but the live trailer for his new album The Life of Pablo is causing a stir. Over the popcorn, the place hums with anticipation: there’s talk of rap history, Kim Kardashian and expectant bangers. Loaded with grab bags of Maltesers and cans of Coke expertly concealed from the staff, the audience feasts on snacks whilst their eyes train on the live stream from Madison Square Garden.

Welcome to Kanye’s listening-party-cum-collection-launch: a curio for £15 a pop.

Paying reference to famed artist Picasso, The Life of Pablo has seen the rapper pontificating “I am Picasso,” in Paris and declaring to the Oxford Guild, if he had chosen fine art over music he would have "become Picasso or greater.”

Among those in Stratford tonight, there is a sense that stratosphere may well be reached. Few musicians have a hold on contemporary culture like West.

In an era where the Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House and National Theatre are all beamed to the big screen, Kanye can trump them all: figures estimated that 20 million viewers tuned in to see what would surely be a run(a)way success.

As the camera pans over the billowing nylon shroud which hides the stage, a young usher warns the Stratford audience that there is to be no photography, videoing or Snapchat. Hindsight teaches us to be grateful.

As a palette of pale fur coats pushes through the crowd at Madison Square Garden, the cinema falls silent to witness the Kardashian dynasty shuffle through a flurry of iPhone flashes and take their seats in the royal box.

Kanye’s entrance is more low key. Dressed in an oversized maroon sweater and small black baseball cap he looks more likely to spend an afternoon bewildered beneath the bonnet of his broken down BMW than launch a fashion collection. Like the artist himself (“BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!!”), I reserve the right to judge.

Appearances aside, Madison Square Garden is expecting an album launch too and so cameras capture Kanye as he makes his way to the sound desk, plugs in his laptop and plays out album opener, Ultra Light Beam.

Spacious and gospel inflicted, the soulful track has West and his ever increasing of entourage Pusha T, Travi$ Scott and Vic Mensa nodding along. Kanye sings along and the song becomes as infectious as his smile - then the models are unveiled.

A recurrence through the playback, the focus switches to the Yeezy Season 3 collection and the energy of the track is lost to slow pans and clothing close-ups. Despite this being a cinema, the sound is pinched and the Stratford audience grumbles: they were expecting a listening party.

They are treated to two stages of models, still and straight-faced throughout, with hundreds more gathered below like a washed-out cast of Les Miserables.

Ears are open for the second verse of Feed Back: “I hate the new Kanye/The bad mood Kanye/The always in the news Kanye," and there is laughter when West disses his wife’s ex-lover on Highlights: "I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain't love the same bitch/Yeah, he might have hit it first/Only problem is I'm rich."

But these are puncture marks from an album that would be better heard without the distractions of on-screen models falling asleep, sitting down or, at one point, forcing a tear.

No More Parties in LA was one notable omission from The Life of Pablo. The track, like the album title, compounds the comparison between West and Picasso: “I feel like Pablo when I’m workin’ on my shoes,” and on tonight’s evidence the rapper might be right. As a fledgling artist, Picasso allowed his dealer to artificially inflate the price of his work as to appear more desirable; so too does West with his $350 Yeezy trainers.

Sat in Stratford, there’s a feeling of being cheated too: tickets here are only £2 cheaper than at the venue proper. For music fans, Picasso’s profits are the wrong inspiration for West to draw from. Madison Square Garden should have seen Kanye at centre stage; his chance for a self-portrait. As his songs shook the venue, the cameras should have been trained on West expressing the energy they deserved.

After an hour of cameras zooming into shoes, models discreetly revealing Adidas logos and showing off six-packs, a rare thought crosses my mind: I wish it was Kanye in that skin tight, bodysuit. And I wish he was dancing.

Yeezy seems to have forgotten that tonight is all about Kanye and you won’t hear that too often.