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The crowd is hovering, crowding towards the security railing on a blocked-off street in Nashville, Tenn. Onstage, the press is doing the same, straining the rails on the edges of the stage, a plush ivory carpet underfoot.
Everyone is staring at the same black SUV. Anxiously waiting for the woman to step out. The minute she does, shrieks wash over the crowd, everyone pressed up against one another angling for a look. I tuck my way in between elbows and arms, using my phone to capture a tiny woman, pursing her lips for flashing cameras, throwing two fingers up at fans and patting a crying baby dressed identically as her own.
I manage to position myself right next to the staircase as she glides up onstage, clad in a skintight blush vinyl dress that looks like it was painted onto her infamous curves. As I point my phone at her, like the dozens of press nestled next to me, it freezes completely.
My phone can’t handle looking at Kim Kardashian-West directly.
In a pop culture landscape where it’s increasingly easy for anyone to become famous or relevant for a minute, it’s easy to become jaded about celebrity. Among the “famous,” who would be considered a #peak celebrity? As in, if you saw them, you’d be unable to speak, the temperature would rise, and your hands would grow clammy. Beyoncé? George Clooney? President Obama?
Kim Kardashian belongs in that group.
Celebrity's all about timing, and no one has had better timing than the Kardashians, especially this week. With Kris running the ship, every Kardashian (and Jenner) has achieved a level of fame that is almost unbelievable in scope.
Kim Kardashian is the crown jewel in the Kardashian tiara. She could have been brought down or rendered irrelevant by her sadly leaked sex tape but instead persevered—hustling through endorsement deals, failed relationships, and tabloid run-ins—and today everyone (who isn't a hater) recognizes that she is multi-talented, no one-hit wonder of the reality TV age; a savvy businesswoman; Kanye’s wife; North’s mother; Fashion icon; Kris’ project. No matter what you ascribe to Kim, you’ve got to respect her hustle.
Even after announcing her second pregnancy earlier this week, and despite tweeting about her awful morning sickness, Kim gets it together and makes an appearance for her latest endorsement, the energy drink Hype. I attended the Hype launch party in Nashville with the promise of speaking to Kim—an opportunity seemingly too good to be true.
A bunch of other journalists and I, flown down from New York to Nashville on the day of the event, clutch our Hype Energy goodie bags and study our carefully considered questions (adhering to the rules) for Mrs. West. After a pleasant flight and lunch, the moment I step on that ivory carpeted DJ stage, where Craig David is presiding over the music, I realize that everything is going to be thrown out the window. Everyone—and I mean everyone—is clocking for Kim. It’s a kind of celebrity thirst I’ve never witnessed before. The crowd chants for Kim’s arrival. And when she steps onstage, it becomes a Hunger Games-style battle to reach her.
The opportunity to speak with Kim for five minutes one-on-one had been the selling point (aside from seeing Craig David live) to attend the event. However, it becomes increasingly clear that will not be happening. Like the Kim fanatics in the crowd, we desperately want any piece of her we can get. The disorderly press line keeps jumping locations, so when it finally sticks somewhere there’s an inevitable tangle of elbowing limbs, desperately shoving phones into Kim’s face or expertly shoving other press members out of the way for that one quote about Kim’s Hype endorsement.
Kim seems unruffled by the chaos swirling around her. While we push each other out of the way to try to speak to her, she continues to calmly answer questions and take selfies with the press. Not to be forgotten, the crowd at one point begins chanting “Move the press!” as a way to get Kim’s attention back. And the MC interviews Formula 1 drivers simultaneously. The sound is a not-so-dull roar.
At one point, I manage to wedge myself in between a cluster of my fellow media members, which is not a source of camaraderie, as we push uncomfortably against one another, vying for the next question and constantly interrupting each other’s questions for Kim’s attention while a handler in the background yells, “More questions about Hype!” When I finally managed to weasel my way in, I try to fold Hype into a question relating to Kim’s Twitter timeline earlier in the day: “How does Hype fit into what you define your personal brand as?”
“The stylist Rushka Bergman that worked with me on L'Uomo Vogue came up with an amazing concept for a commercial—that hasn’t come out yet,” she replies. “I love doing creative things. So she had this amazing concept and introduced me to the owner [of Hype?] and we shot the commercial. I love seeing visual projects come to life.”
Before she can continue, another member of the press interrupts with another question. At this point I realize that Kim’s response to my question is the same one, verbatim, that she gave to an entirely different question that was asked only a couple minutes earlier.
The line continues like this for the rest of the time Kim is onstage. We follow her like a group of hunters pursuing a particularly curvy fox. Everyone tries to sneak one more question or selfie in. She poses for photos with Hype employees and the Formula 1 car and addresses her adoring crowd.
She does one last circle onstage before she steps down to the crowd before leaving us. Her final lap, much like her first, includes more selfies and long waves.
And then she’s gone.
Craig David, who I’m sure had been DJing the entire time Kim was there, comes back into focus, playing a mix of old-school (“Pony, “Cry Me a River”) and new-school (“Trophies”) hits while singing along as the crowd dissipates. Shout out to Craig David for being the only one keeping it together! A smaller crowd on the street dances along while David sings. Onstage, a post-storm calmness washes over the press as people leave or furiously email or transcribe their precious minutes with Kim.
Kim recently covered Vogue Brazil in Marilyn Monroe drag—a comparison that has plagued her for years. What I witness in Nashville is what I assume Beatlemania looked like. It is an all-consuming Kim Kardashian fog. Everyone goes insane in her presence—completely loses it. Fans and press (and those who are both) are wild and hungry for Kim’s attention.
In the immediate aftermath of Kim’s departure, a young girl sobs in the crowd. Bella, an adorable 12-year-old blonde with braces is a huge Kim fan. She considers printing out the selfie she took with Kim and hanging it on her wall, and is understandably a mess about it. For Bella, Kim coming to Nashville and taking a selfie with her is her favorite thing Kim’s ever done. I ask why she’s such a big Kim fan.
“Because I love her!” Bella says. “She’s so real!”
It’s probable that Kim’s Hype appearance in Nashville will be one of Bella’s few opportunities to interact with her. Why does a woman who has seemingly everything in the world—the cutest daughter, endless amounts of money, a handsome and talented husband, a supportive family, and access to just about everything she could want—still do endorsements of this kind, making appearances in small cities for products that she may not even really use? Sure, she adds to her pile of money, but by making herself visible in this way, allowing the Bellas of the world to finally see Kim in the flesh—and to possibly meet her, or get five minutes of one-on-one time with her—she fuels her fervent fandom.
Kim’s become the kind of famous—like Monroe or even The Beatles—where we can ascribe what we want onto her. Amidst real and public mishaps, she’s got what we all seemingly want: love, family, wealth. Of course, her life can be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, but Kim’s possible imperfections, now coupled with her immense fame, are seen through Bella’s eyes and perhaps our own as “real.” This is a woman who’s had her share of fuck-ups and look at her now: The Kim Kardashian West story is the American Dream, albeit with much less humble beginnings. That narrative draws people in.
I was resistant to my own Kim fandom, but in recent years, I’ve slowly been sucked in. I get texts from friends about new North West fashion developments. I constantly checked Kim’s Instagram on her and Kanye’s anniversary. I bought Selfish as “research.” After I knew I was going to Nashville to meet Kim, I considered my wardrobe and bought a new dress that maybe Kim would think was cool.
After the debacle that was my first question, I get the chance to ask Kim one more question. The other press aren’t pushing me; it’s like the crowd around me has dissolved. I stand face-to-face with Kim, who looks exactly as if she stepped out from my television into real life. She has a glow about her, smells like expensive flowers, and is positively lovely. Even though she’s losing her voice, a musical cough interrupting her words, she keeps going. After complimenting her dress, I ask Kim my quickest, non-Hype related question.
“Do you have a preference: Yeezy Boost high-top or low-top?”
She smiles. In my mind, any brief Kanye reference makes her smile like that.
“I don’t have a low-top yet, so I wear the high-tops, but they come out soon,” she says. “I’m told I’m getting a pair…. I might like the low-tops.”
I thank her for her answer and she moves down the sloppily assembled line. My hand trembles as I stop the recording. I regret not asking for a selfie.