“Greatest Living Rockstar”: Kanye, Twitter & Performance

Kanye West loves the sound of his own voice. We’re constantly reminded that he’s ‘the biggest name in Hip Hop’. He didn’t get that label without being supremely confident in his voice and his brand. Last weekend was Glastonbury and Saturday night Kanye gave us the performance of the festival. I’m not for a minute suggesting he was the best singer or the most talented musician. Best doesn’t really come into it. What he gave us was an artistic performance that many won’t forget in a hurry – for their own positive and negative reasons.

But this post isn’t actually about Kanye, not really. I’m sure the internet has hundreds of opinions about what Yeezus was serving up. This post is actually about the performative capacity of Twitter. As I (along with 1 million plus viewers) ‘enjoyed’ the increasingly bizarre headline set I naturally turned my focus to the digital social world. I wanted to see how others were experiencing the spectacle. What I ended up with was a performance all of my own.

Kanye almost blurred into the background as the Twitterati began their song cycle of defend and accuse. It started simply with comments around style and content. The banter and opinion. All good, harmless fun. I found myself joining in, providing a balanced view where I felt it was needed. A dispassionate summary.

Then, about half way through, I started to notice something. Something that to be honest should have been obvious from other such Twitter-tastic shared occasions. I had begun to perform. The views I was espousing weren’t necessarily my own. They were the views of some strange, ‘lets-be-fair-and-all-love-each-other-especially-Kanye-right-now’ alter-ego. Now I don’t dislike Mr West, but I’m hardly in love with him either. But something in me felt the need to enter into a Twitter performance not entirely congruent to my own thinking. For example, I jumped to Kanye’s defence when the voices of Twitter seemed to get stuck obsessively on the subject of auto-tune. I felt the world (whoever the hell that is in my meagre 220 followers) needed to know the difference between an artistic choice of a vocoded performance and the tone correction tool of auto-tune. I mean, Florence had used vocoders the night before and the screams of outrage didn’t seem to be falling down on her gorgeously coiffured red locks. (I loved her performance btw.)

But this wasn’t me. I could care less about autotune. This was a performance. I was fascinated. I’m often fascinated, particularly with myself it seems.

Kanye’s 1 hour and 45 minutes performance of ‘Man Shouting Over Backing Tracks, Hanging Out in Cherry-Pickers and Fake(?) Stage Invasions’, had somehow invaded my personality. The lone figure standing in front of the thousands, not really engaging with them directly, stopping and starting, showing us a backstage view of himself. It invaded my personality. That’s the only explanation. My Twitter performance of ‘Man Defends Obvious Maniacal Egotist’ had an audience of about 3. I too, it seems, love the sound of my own voice. But for those few moments I fully understood what Twitter has the capability of being: a great canvass for performance art. Here is a tool where I can tell any story, represent any made-up character to the literally 3’s of people ‘listening’ to me.

I’m looking forward to my next performance, whenever it strikes. Maybe I’ll be fiercely anti Andy Murray during Wimbledon…

“Aren’t you already?” I hear my inner performer cry.