If Kanye West was serious about running for president, he'd have the most hypebeast campaign in American history.
An earnest West campaign would have a campaign ad worthy of a VMA and a designer ball cap you could only find on StockX. He’d have an online merch shop designed for Yeezy superfans where he’d sell out limited-edition long-sleeve graphic tees for $2,800 a pop, the maximum FEC contribution limit.
Instead, West is tweeting images of Kanye 2020 shirts that rip off a streetwear brand while Republican political professionals try to help get his name on the ballot in states where the deadline hasn’t passed yet.
West’s last-minute, long-shot third party candidacy is confusing. If it was meant as a publicity stunt for new music, it didn’t work. His latest single, “Wash Us In the Blood” feat. Travis Scott, missed the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and fell off the chart after just two weeks. His candidacy came too late to qualify for the ballot in at least a half dozen states right off the bat, he’s had just one campaign event and it reportedly upset his wife (they have now agreed to no longer talk politics, per Us Weekly), and he told Forbes he was “walking,” not running, for president. But design is also a major tell.
West is one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation and his taste and output across music, fashion, and culture is cutting edge. His albums are critically praised and he’s gotten major artists like KAWS and George Condo to design his album covers. His clothing, including tour merch and his Adidas Yeezy line, is trendsetting. His custom font Yeezy Tstar is used by both his and his wife’s brands. He’s also working with James Turrell, the famed light-and-space artist who designed the Roden Crater and inspired Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video, to develop a new architectural style (“We need to build a home where every room is a Turrell,” West told GQ). So why isn’t the visual language of West candidacy’s more focused?
So far, we’ve gotten a mood board. West tweeted out a photo last Wednesday showing three political posters — one that said “2020 Vision,” another that had his last name written out across the continental U.S., and one that said “46” — along with images of Jesus, a dove, eagles, and a photo of a car that had been vandalized to say “Kanye 2020.”
The image is the only one to appear on the West campaign site kanye2020.country. The site has a 10-point platform that includes Bible verses and calls for a return to prayer in schools, student loan debt reduction, police reform, and an emphasis on the arts. There’s a link to donate at the bottom of the page.
West recently tweeted that he was having a new font designed and he posted images of the words “The West Wing” and “Vision” written in his handwriting that the font would be based on, as if it would be used in his campaign. The font hasn’t been released yet, though. He also shared mock-up images of branded “Kanye 2020 Vision” t-shirts and hats Tuesday, but other than the slogan, they share nothing in common with his moodboard and they’re a direct play off a logo for the skate brand Vision Street Wear, which West noted. These aren’t true Kanye originals.
It’s not as if running a hypebeast campaign hasn’t been done before. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang showed how to pull it off by collaborating with Childish Gambino and his 2019 Coachella designer for a pop-up shop. Yang turned the MATH hat into the hottest campaign accessory since the MAGA hat, his supporters call themselves the Yang Gang, and he pushed universal basic income into the public consciousness the way West once pushed sped-up soul samples and auto-tune into mainstream pop.
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Of course, West is sometimes indecisive and doesn’t meet deadlines. He’s missed the chance to file to get on the ballot in multiple states and his 10th solo studio album, Donda: With Child, is now three weeks late. West has changed his mind about running in 2020 versus 2024 multiple times. Maybe it’s too much to expect anything more than a moodboard less than 100 days before Election Day. It’s just how West works sometimes!
It also must be noted that West is bipolar. Kim Kardashian West tweeted about the diagnosis and asked for “compassion” as her husband deals with stress related to pressure and isolation. West was hospitalized in 2016 for stress and exhaustion and put on a psychiatric hold. The national attitude on mental health has changed dramatically in recent years, and rightfully so. West’s public rants and tweet storms are approached more thoughtfully than, say, any part of Britney Spears’ public breakdown more than a decade ago.
In light of West’s mental health issues, pushing a candidacy for someone like him feels exploitative, particularly because of the motives of the people pushing it. West’s campaign is receiving help from Republicans and allies of President Trump to get on state ballots, he’s been in contact with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for more than a month, and he met Kushner in person in Colorado last weekend. In Montana, unidentified signature gatherers told people that getting West on the ballot would help Trump and “take votes away from creepy Uncle Joe.”
If West’s campaign doesn’t look like what you imagine a Kanye West campaign would look like, that might be because it isn’t really a full-on Kanye West campaign. He’s not getting help from people who seem to actually believe he’d make a good president and his platform that mashes up social conservative values with progressive social justice isn’t why they’re supporting him. West’s “walking” campaign doesn’t have the creative you’d expect it to have. His attention, at least on Twitter, seems more focused on designing shoes and waterproof bags than politics, and his campaign comes off as a misguided effort to split the vote and help Trump.
As of right now, West’s campaign isn’t getting traction. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found West has just 2% support among registered voters, as well as 2% support among Black voters.
Americans don’t take West’s candidacy seriously, and it’s not as if a street-inspired, high-fashion visual identity would suddenly change that, but at least it would show that West took his own candidacy seriously.