Kanye West’s Natural and Strategic Hold on Fans

by The Cowl Editor on September 16, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Kanye West’s Natural and Strategic Hold on Fans

A Look at West’s Newly-Released Album, Donda

Talia Rueda ’23

If every artist had three different release dates for their upcoming project and a continuum of listening parties, would more performers be in the running to earn the Spotify and Apple Music single-day streaming records for the year? Probably not, because most artists are not Kanye West.

Although many musicians use their albums to express their thoughts and convictions, West’s use of this technique is more complex than that of other performers. Indeed, as a confessional artist, it is simply in his nature.

His latest album, the 27-track Donda, was released the morning of Aug. 29 after a year and a half of prolonged anticipation and a month of increased excitement after he announced live performances of the album at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to its official release. Throughout West’s process of creating the album, fans and critics alike were attentive to the status of his personal life, especially the news surrounding his presidential campaign, divorce, and mental health.

A look at the album indicates that West’s perceptions of how his affairs were publicized certainly contributed to the artist’s inventive process. For instance, Donda has numerous lyrics with references to West’s soon-to-be ex-wife. One of the album’s lead singles, “Hurricane,” contains the lyrics, “Heated by the rumors, read into it too much / Fiendin’ for some true love, ask Kim, ‘What do you love?’”

West not only addresses the version of events from his highly publicized life with which listeners are familiar, but also offers them a glimpse into his own perceptions of these experiences. Such an insular look into West’s handlings of his affairs is one of the most prevalent recurring themes throughout Donda. 

Another prominent theme of the album is the reappearance of similar elements that proved Kanye’s genius in the beginning of his career: the fearless intricacy, the moments of repetition, the union of chords, and high definition. 

Moreover, throughout Donda, West expresses a need for redemption, a desire to be closer to something more profound than himself throughout his journey of grief. For instance, Kanye’s late mother, after whom Donda is named, is heard speaking throughout the album. 

West’s longing also appears in lyrics including, “Lord, I come, I confess / Bowing here, I find my rest / Without You, I fall apart / You’re the one that guides my heart” in his take on the Christian worship song, “Lord I Need You.” It is clear that a theme of worship has taken priority not only in Donda, but also in West’s personal life. This suggests that the idea of faith is much more than simply a new creative era West is in. Rather, worship and the search for redemption are constants in his life. There is no indecision: he places his faith in a power higher than himself as he struggles to grapple with everything from rumors in the media to something as life-defining as losing his mother. Unlike artists who reinvent themselves and rotate in and out of multiple contrasting phases or styles, Kanye’s therapeutic use of worship in this album brings listeners seemingly in reach of the artist, captivating his audience.

It is because of this frankness ingrained in West’s nature that the ambiguity of his album release dates did not cause his listeners to lose interest, but rather reinforced their confidence in his project. Indeed, the vulnerability in West’s voice, audible in his first tease of the album, hinted at the entire record’s passion and sincerity. Then, when the hymn-like intro of “No Child Left Behind” was first teased in a recent Beats commercial, it became clear to the public that listeners would not suffer from a lack of opportunity to analyze West’s prioritization of worship.

While West’s connection with the public certainly owes to his unguarded nature, this relationship also arises from the artist’s deliberate strategy. His decision to host several release parties, featuring different versions of the album, made fans eager to give feedback and promote whichever version they liked best. 

Other unorthodox methods of promotion, from posting private messages with DaBaby’s team and burning his childhood home on stage to livestreaming from inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, prove that West knows his listeners are following his every move with admiration and devotion.

Kanye’s grip on his fans is so firm that he has the ability to tease different versions of his project for months without complaint, but his fans’ devotion owes to the vulnerability and openness the artist reveals to them.

Kanye West’s Donda has now officialy set the Apple Music record with 60 million streams.