Superstar's year of crossing the line

By Mark Kennedy

Kanye West is constantly in the spotlight. Picture / AP
Kanye West is constantly in the spotlight. Picture / AP

It's been a hectic year for Kanye West. There was a new album that had a tortured, months-long release. Two fashion shows that were plagued by last-minute changes and long delays. There also was the reopening of a bitter feud with Taylor Swift, an ambitious US concert tour, a newborn son, and a harrowing robbery of his wife.

"When was the last time I wasn't in a hurry?" West asks on the song Real Friends from the newest CD The Life of Pablo.

A relentless schedule and a churning life in the media glare with his wife, Kim Kardashian, apparently took their toll on the Grammy Award-winner. West was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre in Los Angeles on Tuesday for stress and exhaustion.

"In the last 12 months, there probably hasn't been anyone more in the spotlight than Kanye and his wife," said Bob Williams, the chief executive/chief operating officer of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing , which specialises in celebrity procurement and music licensing.

"I don't know any celebrity who has been under more scrutiny than the two of them are," Williams added. "That creates tremendous pressure from the outside - expectations to perform, pressure to respond. It takes time. It takes effort."

In the days leading to his hospitalisation, West's behaviour was somewhat erratic. At the weekend in Sacramento, California, he ended his show after just four songs but not before a 10-minute tirade about Beyonce, Jay Z, Hillary Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, the radio and MTV.

West also flooded his Instagram account with nearly 100 fashion photos, many out of focus and poorly cropped. Then Monday's concert in the Los Angeles area was cancelled just a few hours before it was to start, and West decided to scrap the entire tour. Requests for comment from the rapper's record label have gone unanswered.

Chuck Creekmur, the founder of, has met West several times and while he has no inside knowledge of the artist's mind, he said it seems the relentless publicity and stress of creativity may be too much. "The lights are bright and if they are on you all the time - coupled with your own quest for immortality and greatness - I can only imagine it's like running a marathon that never ends."

For much of this year West has been front-and-centre, showing off his work and ideas like a ringmaster at a never-ending cultural circus, fuelled by his perfectionist streak.

"That perfectionist mentality can become a consuming state of being because there's no such thing," said Creekmur. "If you are in pursuit of perfection, you'll probably find yourself going insane because there is literally no such thing as perfection."

West's year included debuting his latest Yeezy fashion line in baking heat that felled some of the more than 100 models during New York Fashion Week. He was also on Ellen with a rambling speech full of name-dropping, ambition and "realness".

He also went on Twitter to complain he was US$53 million ($74.9m) in debt. He rushed to the side of his wife after she was tied up and robbed of more than US$10m in jewels in Paris, which left her badly shaken.

He melted down at Saturday Night Live when staffers tore out the shiny stage he had requested.

And in perhaps the most jaw-dropping act of synergy and ambition, West took over Madison Square Garden in February, spinning new tracks from The Life of Pablo while simultaneously debuting his third clothing collaboration with adidas. Not only did he get 20,000 people to attend at up to US$500 a seat, he streamed it live on Tidal and at movie theatres. No detail was too small: There was a list of 38 rules for models, including "do not act cool".

The CD would actually not be released until April. West had vowed it would only be available on Tidal but backed down.

The album did produce two much-discussed cultural items - one lyrically and one visually - from a single song, Famous. On it, he rapped: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex" and took credit for her fame. It reignited the bitter Swift-West feud - he infamously snatched the microphone from her at the 2009 MTV Music Awards - and led to furious back-and-forth between the superstars.

The video to the song, using lookalikes, only added to the firestorm. On it, West and Swift are shown naked, along with a post-coital Chris Brown, Rihanna, George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.

Trump would also feature in the lead-up to West's hospitalisation. On Saturday, during a concert in San Jose, California, West said he didn't vote for President but would have backed Trump, praising the President-elect's "method of communication" as "very futuristic". He also spoke about his plans to run for that office in 2020, saying he would be "a different kind of President".

Williams says West seems to thrive on living on the edge. "There can be a fine line between being controversial and too controversial and I think that Kanye has kind of crossed that line a few times. It's been a very long, busy, arduous year."

- AP

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