Kylie Was Here: A New Turn in the Kardashians' Pop Culture Stranglehold

Love them or hate them, they're a phenomenon.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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Celebrities do a thing and the world reacts; it’s a fail-safe formula. For everyone maintaining that they don’t give a fuck about them and their meaningless escapades, there are at least 10 who do. At least.

We’re in the midst of a Kanye West album rollout, a media vacuum in which everything he does publicly for the next two weeks will be a headline. Just after midnight, he used Twitter—a public platform—to share the handwritten tracklist to SWISH. Most noticeable about the image, information and occasionally illegible handwriting aside, was the “KYLIE WAS HERE” at the bottom of the page. The aftermath has been tweets, jokes, and other assorted ruminations about this surprise inclusion, which is more calculated than your teenage sister-in-law scribbling on your work.

Unlike the 10 song titles, it was written in red ink; it was obviously meant to stand out. It’s a puissant statement, but not in a threatening, “REDЯUM” manner.  Those three words are a testament to the Kardashian/Jenner family’s fame, as well as a strong example of how hip-hop, popular culture, and celebrity intersect in 2016.

Hip-hop intermingling with pop culture is no new phenomenon. Shit, there was a time at the beginning of the previous decade when hip-hop was pop music, and prior to that, it was the cool subculture. But there’s more behind Kylie Jenner’s faux-graffiti to unpack. This isn’t a young Edward Furlong wearing a Public Enemy t-shirt in Terminator 2: Judgement Day or rappers playing in MTV’s Rock N’ Jock games back in the ‘90s, this is the aggrandized product of that, and it makes perfect sense.

At this point, a little more than halfway through a new decade, we’re at the peak of celebrity fascination. We occasionally forget that celebrities enjoy the same things that we commoners do, hip-hop being one of them. That’s why it’s engrossing when Tom Hardy mouths the words to Wu-Tang Clan and 50 Cent songs, or entertaining when he and noted hip-hop fan/normcore deity Leonardo DiCaprio discuss Bobby Shmurda during The Revenant’s press run. Celebrities flock to Coachella, the magnet in the California desert, each spring as we do. The festival is a moment that, save for special access, places famous and regular people in proximity to each other. A video of Tyler, the Creator and Kendall Jenner jokingly trading middle fingers materialized last spring because, in addition to the entire exchange being amusing, someone in attendance knew others would care. The clip went viral because media outlets knew the masses would engage.

Understanding what people will react to is a key marketing principle, something Kanye and his in-laws understand all too well. Kylie tagging that piece of paper speaks volumes about their influence and how adept they are at using social media. Just think of how far this already-wealthy family has come over the years and why.

Think back to what Kanye and the Kardashian/Jenner family were doing a decade ago. He was on the verge of winning three of the eight Grammys Late Registration was nominated for, and deploying a “Thank You” list, labeled “Thank You List,” during his acceptance speech for Best Rap Album. It was evident that he was the genre’s biggest disruptor, but he was still over a year away from making his first big leap into the pantheon of greatness. And his future family? Kourtney Kardashian was arguably its biggest reality TV star in these pre-Keeping Up with the Kardashians days following her stint on E!’s Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive. The thought of these people from very different worlds forming a union would’ve sounded impossible; insane even. But, alas, they have, because all parties involved are exceptional at creating and selling moments.

Kanye West is the most influential artist of his generation, a Steve Jobs disciple who’s had a parallel impact on the artists who have grown up during his rise. He wields this power like Excalibur, using it to slice through the fashion world’s barrier and create landmark moments to generate momentum around his music. The Kardashians/Jenners were an affluent family who made every opportunity for greater success actionable. Using the "All Press Is Good Press" rationale, they turned the family name(s) into a brand name in roughly 10 years. And the marriage between Kim Kardashian and Kanye is a masterclass in brand alignment.

Earlier this month, Khloé Kardashian revealed that the family was involved in the creation of SWISH. She mentioned that Kanye valued their opinions, but the extent of their influence and what, exactly, their roles might be remained unclear. But the fact that that Khloé was discussing one of the most anticipated releases of the year focuses the picture: they’re handling some of the promotion. They’re part of the rollout. Kim is the one who broke the news (albeit, via Twitter) about Kanye kind of releasing new music each week leading up to SWISH’s release, and she’s the one who explained what delayed “No More Parties in LA.” Kourtney went on a tweet blitz of pictures of her, Kylie, and Kim with #SWISH amended to them yesterday, and she, Kylie, and the official Keeping Up with the Kardashians twitter account retweeted Kanye’s tweet of the tracklist as well.  

Expert use of social media is about knowing what to do and say, but more importantly when to do and say it. Does anyone think it was coincidental that Kanye’s tracklist tweet appeared at 12:16 a.m. ET, when presumably there would be a West Coast airing of Keeping Up with the Kardashians? They all benefit from the promotion. It’s a family affair.

It’s been said countless times, but social media has eliminated the veil of celebrity. It’s an avenue to better access, even turning some celebrities into direct news sources. Nearly five years ago, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson broke the news (for some) about Osama Bin Laden’s death. The late Robert Kardashian, Sr. was involved in the O.J. Simpson spectacle, the darker side of celebrity fascination and blueprint for today’s reality television which created the lane his family has thrived in. Celebrity power is no longer something that happens in the shadows; we see it up close and personal, and the Kardashians are a prime example of that. They’ve come from Juicy Couture to Yeezy Season, and their influence is a prism that’s refracted Kanye West’s, projecting it onto another audience.

Not only was Kylie there, Kylie’s next up (love it or hate it), and the whole family’s grip on the media ain’t slacking anytime soon.

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