Ivan Arroyo immigrated to Dallas, Texas from Mexico when he was 6 years old. For the past 10 years he’s been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was launched by the Obama administration in 2012 to protect children of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Since 2008, the 31-year-old has grown an affinity for Kanye West’s style, and it shows. His Instagram, @ivansrevenge, is filled with pictures of him wearing Yeezy pieces from head to toe (Ye follows the account).
In 2018, Ye wore a red MAGA hat, endorsing President Trump, whose platform was based on preventing immigrants from getting in the U.S. and deporting people like Arroyo who were currently living in the States.
But despite that, Arroyo remains committed to supporting West’s art. However, he struggles with supporting someone whose personal beliefs don’t align with his.
“When he first came out wearing the MAGA hat, it was hard because Donald Trump was one of the main people that was trying to end a program that keeps me here in the States without being deported,” says Arroyo. “So when I saw that Kanye was wearing the MAGA hat, it was more than a red hat. It means you support some of the things that the person says, you know? It’s crazy to say that because if somebody were to see me wearing Yeezy, they would feel like I support some of the things he said as well.”
Arroyo’s not alone. His Instagram is representative of many accounts that Ye follows, which are dedicated to outfits inspired by him and his contributions to fashion. Despite Ye’s ongoing streak of controversial moments, which include wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt and spewing antisemitic rants that led to losing partnerships with brands like Adidas and Balenciaga, many Yeezy die-hards Complex interviewed say they won’t leave the brand behind anytime soon. Like the enduring fandom of controversial pop stars like Michael Jackson, it’s not new for a celeb like Ye to to bypass being canceled by his most devoted fans. Especially those who choose to dress just like him.
“One of the reasons why people always try to emulate whoever it is they’re fanning is because they try on aspects of the identity of people who they admire as part of their own identity construction,” says West Chester University of Pennsylvania Professor Lynn Zubernis, a licensed psychologist who has researched the thinking behind fandom for decades and penned several books on the topic, such as Family Don’t End With Blood. “This makes giving up that fandom even more difficult. Because if a part of your own identity is tied to this person, then the loss of that identity feels like a personal threat and it really does become about loss. So people are not eager to do that.”
Many of these Yeezy fans have collected West’s Yeezy apparel since he launched his first collaborative footwear with Adidas in 2015. Deistrada Rah, a 38-year-old from South Jamaica, Queens, has followed the artist since his ascent in the 2000s and claims he even met West through the rapper Consequence early on. Rah’s instagram bio touts that Ye follows him and he says he owns two of every Yeezy Gap hoodie colorway. When asked about Kanye’s recent comments, Rah frames the situation as if Ye was a personal family member or friend.
“A lot of stuff Ye says sounds stupid. While I like what he’s doing and think that he is a genius, I don’t agree with everything he does you know,” says Rah, who is Black and disagreed with the falsehoods Ye spread about George Floyd dying from fentanyl and not asphyxiation from a police officer’s knee in his neck. “But you know, that’s my boy. You know how you got that friend? He’s not lying or trying to be somebody that he’s not. He’s being Kanye and you got to respect him for that.”
Zubernis confirms that it’s not unusual for fans to perceive their idol as a close friend or family member.
“You will often hear fans talk about both the object of their fandom, and their fellow fans, as family or close friends,” says Zubernis. “It’s a thing called a parasocial relationship, which is the psychological phenomenon of feeling like you are closer to the object of your adoration and that they do in some way know or recognize you. Even if that’s from very limited interaction on Instagram, that feels very compelling.”
David Luna, a 32-year-old Yeezy Instagram influencer based in Florida with a following of over 20,000, does not agree with Ye’s comments or politics. But he finds Ye’s communication with his large fanbase on Instagram captivating.
“People have to understand what makes Ye different is that he’s involved with his followers, especially as of late,” says Luna, who also points out that Ye follows him on Instagram and checks his Instagram stories weekly. “It literally felt like a friend was going through something. I don’t think you can defend what he’s said. My only question is: What is his intent behind what he’s saying?”
Despite news revealing that Ye expressed antisemitic thoughts long before his recent remarks, Yeezy fans interviewed for this story strongly believe that he potentially made these incendiary comments to kill his Adidas deal by any means necessary. Social media users have agreed with these sentiments outside Instagram but have also lampooned them in memes. Zubernis says what’s particular about Ye is that the way he speaks can be so vague and disconnected (likely because of his mental health issues) that anyone can interpret what he says how they see fit.
“So it is easy for fans to say: ‘Well, what he’s talking about, what he meant there, is not really what it sounds like. This is really part of a broader thing that he’s trying to do, which is actually a good thing,’ says Zubernis when asked why much of Ye’s fanbase hold similar thoughts about his behavior. “At times when he goes on rants or long rambling monologues with accusations, people can more easily dismiss those things as ‘Just Kanye being Kanye’ or not take them as seriously. Especially when they aren’t clear in meaning or have logical lapses.”
Zubernis emphasizes that there’s nothing pathologically wrong with how these fans think. She also stresses that extreme fandoms are not built solely by monolithic followers and fans are guided by their own personal belief systems. While Zeke Hannula says he will continue to wear Yeezy apparel, the 26-year-old Yeezy influencer, who is also the co-founder of the Yeezy Instagram fan page YZY Mob, said he immediately unfollowed Ye on his personal Instagram after he heard his antisemetic rants.
“Half my family is Jewish. I don’t condone anything that Kanye has been doing and I haven’t really been a fan of him personally,” says Hannula, who runs a Yeezy-inspired Instagram page that has more than 27,000 followers, including Ye. “I’m more a fan of the designers who are behind Yeezy, the brand, if anything. I don’t believe anything he’s saying is a part of a bigger plan. I just think he needs help. He’s around people like Candace Owens that’s peddling this bullshit antisemitic rhetoric. It’s incredibly disappointing and it took me a minute to work through my feelings on it.”
Like others, Hannula is firm when it comes to separating the art from the artist. But he’s highly critical of Ye’s recent actions and is disappointed to see that some of the Yeezy community on Instagram has echoed Ye’s antisemitic rhetoric. He feels the community has become divided within the past couple weeks and says he’s even received death threats for being an outspoken critic of Ye. Hannula also believes that Yeezy fans who don’t agree with speaking out against Ye seem to lean conservative.
“I’ve noticed recently there’s some overlap of Kanye super fans with being either a Trump fan or someone who’s aligned with the alt-right,” says Hannula. “When I posted a CNN article about his obsession with Hitler, I got about a dozen replies labeling it as ‘fake news’ or messages saying ‘They’re trying to do the same thing to Ye as they did with Trump.’”
During Ye’s latest round of cancellation, he doubled down on his political beliefs by moving to buy Parler in October, a social media platform similar to Twitter that caters to a right-wing audience. Owens, a popular conservative activist that Ye spotlighted during his Yeezy Season 9 fashion show and his YZY SHDZ campaign, is married to Parler CEO George Farmer. While Zubernis says it comes down to a fan’s own beliefs, she does think fans could be influenced to politically align with their idols to identify more closely with them. None of the fans interviewed for this story said they’ve been politically influenced by Ye in any way. However, many of them told Complex that they checked out Parler after they heard about Ye’s involvement.
For fans like Daniel Villanueva, a 37-year-old better known as Perceps on Instagram, Yeezy apparel is intertwined with his Christain faith. Villanueva says he’s been wearing Yeezy since 2015 and became dedicated to wearing Ye’s merch since he released Jesus Is King in 2019. “I felt a conviction really from God to put Yeezy out there because that’s what he was all about,” says Villanueva, who owns over 75 pairs of Ye’s sneakers. Ye’s political choices are also aligned with his.
“I’m pro-life and I don’t believe in abortion. It’s not impacted by who says what or who wears what. This is a belief system that’s already stayed solid even prior to everything that’s going on right now,” says Villunueva, who believes God will guide Ye through his cancellation. Villanueva also opened a Parler account and began using the platform after learning about it through Ye. “I followed him to Parler because he’s just being unfairly treated on all these platforms.”
Regardless of where these fans stand morally or politically on Ye’s recent actions, they’re not ready to give up their fandom over Yeezy. Many express that they are excited to see the future of the brand now that he’s free from his Adidas and Gap contracts. Some vow to never buy Adidas designs that mimic the Yeezy aesthetic, while others are open to it. Many people may find it inconceivable to support Ye in any shape or form at this moment, but for Yeezy enthusiasts, their connection to Ye goes beyond sneakers or clothes.
“Why do people hold onto their fandom so hard, so tightly, even with maybe information that goes against their narrative? It’s because it’s not even just about the person they’re fanning. They don’t wanna give up the community that forms around the fandom,” says Zubernis. “These might be their closest friends. These might be the people that they interact with on a daily basis for literally the majority of the day.”
Despite everything that’s unfolded within the Yeezy universe, fans like Luna describe the Yeezy Instagram community as being a close knit family that’s supportive and positive. “We all know each other and we understand this aesthetic is kind of a nuance to fashion,” says Luna. “A lot of people think we look homeless or don’t know what we’re doing. But we share this camaraderie and that’s not negative. We’re all rooting for each other.”
But he’s also prepared to jump ship if Ye’s actions eventually go past his own personal moral limits. Besides, he believes the fashion aesthetic Yeezy architected is something that he can continue to hone in on without Ye’s direct involvement or his fan’s support.
“I’m not going to stand behind his content because if you take it literally then you’re basically going to align yourself with a racist ideology, which I don’t do,” says Luna. “I don’t write people off until everything plays out, so I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open and hope this ends in a good place. If not, I’m OK with moving on.”