For the Record

We Went to Kanye West's Insane Album Launch Party

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3

Kanye West is a polarizing dude: you either hate him, or you'd be willing to spend a week's worth of grocery money on tickets to a Yeezy Season 3 fashion show/listening party celebrating his new album. I fall in the second category, which is why I found myself at Madison Square Garden this afternoon, waiting to find out more about the album currently known as The Life of Pablo.

It's Kanye, so I knew that anything could happen, including, but not limited to, doing three straight hours of slam-poetry with the house lights out. But that unpredictability is part of the fun of being a Kanye West fan. One day you're wondering whether his album would be titled Swish or Waves, the next you're trying to convince your friends (and yourself) that he's just trolling when he tweets things like "BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!"

Anyway, here is my account of the afternoon's events.


3:40pm: I have arrived! This might be the coolest-looking, best-dressed concert audience I've ever seen. The audience color scheme is strictly beige, black and green. A lot of people are wearing hats indoors. Lots of Yeezy, lots of Supreme, lots of fur. I feel like I'm home.


3:50pm: The line for merch is the longest I have ever seen -- it's easily as bad as that line for cronuts. (New Yorkers are such suckers, right?) "I'm buying it no matter what it says," I overhear one guy say. On the plus side, I've never seen such a small beer line.

3:51pm: Looks like the swag says "I FEEL LIKE PABLO," so I guess Kanye has finally decided on an album name. Just in time!

3:52pm: They are apparently also selling these, for all you American Crime Story fans out there.

4:00pm: I have reached my seat! There is a giant orb made of some sort of shimmering fabric. The ushers are shaking the edges like they're trying to ventilate something underneath, or else they're about to play a big MSG-wide game of parachute. What's under there!?

4:20pm: The show has still not started -- which I imagine is way more annoying for the people watching the livestream in 700 movie theaters around the world -- so I go out to check on the merch line. People are walking around with bags and bags full of swag like they're at a sample sale and/or stockpiling warm clothes for an upcoming thermonuclear winter. I briefly entertain the idea of waiting and getting awesome TLOP tees for all my family and friends, but the line's not moving, so I give up and go inside.

4:30pm: THE KARDASHIANS ARE HERE. I let out an audible squeal, which I did not see coming, but that is apparently the effect that real-life Kardashians have on me. They are wearing lots of diamonds, feathers and white fur. Also lots of people screaming for Kylie.


4:31pm: KANYE HAS ARRIVED. He's wearing a red concert sweater and a Yeezus hat. And he's with Lamar Odom, who hasn't been out in public since his overdose. Glad to see he's doing better. Hi, Kanye! Hi, Lamar Odom! Guys, all my friends are here!

4:37pm: Kanye just asked for the aux cord and you could hear the static when it's plugged in. Pretty sure Kanye is going to control MSG's entire speaker system for a sold-out audience with an aux cord.

4:38pm: The first track plays. It's called "Ultra Light Beam." "Feel free to dance, move, whatever y'all want to do," Kanye says. So, yep, Kanye is just gonna play the album from his computer while he dances and chills with his friends. Serious middle school basement vibes. How much did I spend on this again?

4:39pm: "Ultra Light Beam" sounds awesome. Lots of gospel choruses and Kanye getting deep with lines like "deliver us liberty, deliver us peace, deliver us love," plus a hot-as-fire verse by Chance The Rapper.

4:40pm: The dome has lifted! I am not a fashion person (again, why am I here?!) but it looks very cool. There are tons of models standing dead still and looking very serious. Some are on the ground, while others are atop two raised pedestals draped in cloth. I think some of the models have tears in their eyes? The color palate is lots of red, orange and burgundy, and it has a kind of scorched desert vibe to it. The models are moving occasionally -- it's kind of like a very slow-moving statue. Feels like a performance art installation (which it basically is; it was put together by conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft).


Oh, apparently Kanye has decreed that the models not move/breathe. That explains it.


4:50pm: Now we're on to a track called "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 & 2," a song about his dad featuring Kid Cudi and Future. Kanye is definitely showing his sensitive side, lyrically. Despite being in Madison Square Garden, this whole thing has a super intimate feeling to it.

4:52pm: Supermodel Naomi Campbell, who famously does not get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day, is working it on one of the pedestals in black fur right now. Is this where my $150 went?


4:53pm: Now we get "Famous," feat. Rihanna. The lyrics have moved away from sappy family stuff and are now squarely in tabloid catfight zone.

4:54pm: Drama alert! Kanye just rapped: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, I made that bitch famous." Ouch. That is also 1) not true, 2) offensive to my feminist sensibilities, 3) definitely the end of the nascent KanTay friendship, and 4) still not enough to turn me off Kanye.

4:57pm: On "High Lights," we get even more diss lines, like "I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we ain't love the same bitch," and "Blac Chyna f--kin' Rob, help them with the weight, I wish my trainer would tell me what I overate." Ah!

5:02pm: Time for "Feedback," which features Kanye rapping about -- what else? -- himself. He starts off by talking about how he misses the old Kanye: "I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye, the always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye." Then he gets super meta: "What if Kanye made a song about Kanye called 'I miss the old Kanye?' Man, that would be so Kanye." He was definitely high when he wrote this.

5:03pm: On that note, Madison Square Garden is pretty much hotboxed. The weed smell is overpowering.

5:10pm: Pretty sure I'm having a numinous out-of-body experience right now. (It might be the weed fumes? It's the weed fumes.) But regardless, I am loving this. Standing in the dark with thousands of people listening to an entire album play in a semi-hotboxed Madison Square Garden while watching a slow-moving human statue is the only way I'm listening to music from now on.

5:12pm: "Wolves," but a different version than before, featuring the long-absent Frank Ocean instead of Vic Mensa and Sia.

5:14pm: Okay, Kanye is talking finally. (Will he rant? I hope he rants!) First off, he's asking the audience what we think about the album and the clothes. [Lots of cheering.] Now he's complaining about how hard it is to get people to believe in his creative vision even though he's a celebrity, so tick that off on your Kanye-rant bingo board.

5:15pm: Kanye saying how great it is to see his "wife, her sisters, and all of New York city standing behind the crazy [n-word] from the interviews." Massive cheer.

5:16pm: Now everyone is chanting "Fuck Nike!" in unison, and he starts playing "Facts," his Nike diss track. Down with all non-Kanye-made sneakers!

5:17pm: Kanye gives some more thanks, in the way only he can. He thanks former VogueParis editor Carine Roitfeld for giving Kim her first cover and coming to their wedding, and also for being "a real bitch." And he also thanks Olivier Rousteing for designing his in-laws' clothes with him. ("Come on, you all be wearing your Balmains!")


5:18pm: An audience member disses Michael Jordan, which does not please Kanye. "Respect Jordan!" he says, although, as he points out, "people do come to Madison Square Garden to see me play one on no one."

5:19pm: Kanye plays "Fade." I'll spare you the track-by-track review cause this is getting long, but I'm loving TLOP so far, and so is the crowd. It's introspective, brash, vulnerable and menacing -- Yeezus meets Dark Twisted Fantasy. I can’t wait to listen to it again. When’s the next listening party?

5:25pm: Now Vic Mensa is playing a song... aaaand it looks like the Kardashians are outta here. Get a little sad when I realize that I don't know the next time I'll be in a room with all the Kardashians. Still, I get it; gotta avoid that F train rush.

5:27pm: Pretty clear there won't be a live performance tonight, so I head out on the concourse to check out the merch line. There are only 2XL and 3XL T-shirts left. People are not happy.

"Literally nothing happened," one attendee says. "I should have watched it on Tidal." I am told that both Young Thung and Frank Ocean have now been given turns with the aux cord.

5:34pm: I'm back inside, and good god, Kanye just showed us a trailer for a new videogame called Only One, which features his late mother riding to heaven on a white winged horse, like some heavenly "Bound 2" sequel. Now this is the bizarro Kanye shit that I came for.

5:37pm: He's playing the game trailer again, in case we didn't get the gist the first time, and complaining about how the game design community doesn't take him seriously (another square on Kanye-rant bingo!) “Y’all are acting like this shit is regular, man!" he says. "You don’t understand, like, I’ll go out and meet with everybody in San Fran and they’ll diss the fuck out of me."

5:38pm: Kanye ranting some more, saying he told "Anna" (first-name basis!) that his dream is to be creative director of Hermes. Kelly, Birkin and... Kardashian? It's the future!

5:40pm:More aux cord DJ-ing. People are starting to file out.

5:46pm: Kanye thanks everyone again for "coming and living this dream" and then he is out of here. Goodbye, Kanye. Thank you for the memories.

5:51pm: Now it's just a model mosh-pit dance party. (I guess Kanye is letting the models move again?) The aux cord is still going strong, and the models are busting a move to Bey's "Formation" and Rihanna's "Work." I mill around the merch booth contemplating buying a 3XL T-shirt to wear as a nightgown and/or to flip on eBay to recoup my ticket money, but I decide against it. Time to go.

Verdict: Even though I spent way too much money to listen to Kanye play music off his laptop while watching nearly still models from very far away (and with not so much as a T-shirt to show for it!), somehow the experience was still a net positive. Only Kanye has the balls to throw an event that is so audacious, brazen, egotistical and fundamentally underwhelming as this one, and to still make it so goddamn singular and memorable.

The album isn't streaming online yet, but this was definitely enough of a taste to get me excited, to assure me that Kanye is still at the top of his game, and to make everyone on the internet really angry for the foreseeable future. Hell, it's only been an hour and Taylor Swift's brother has already released a video rebuttal which consists of him throwing his Yeezys in the trash can. Austin, are you mad? Those are $350 shoes! Can I have them?

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Anna Silman is a staff writer at Thrillist and an alum of Salon and Vulture. She likes Taylor Swift, too. Find her on Twitter: @annaesilman.