If anything’s been made clear in the run-up to Kanye West’s seventh album, it’s that the man is not, in the traditional understanding of the term, a perfectionist. The p-word’s been assigned to him before due to the opulence of his music and precision of his taste: He mixed “Stronger” 50 times in 2007 before he had a version he felt okay about, and he made a fuss about the gilded restroom specifications at his wedding in Versailles. But no one for whom the impression of flawlessness was the goal would let the public see him waffle about his album title and track listing right up to the release date, or promote his fashion line with lo-res JPEGs in his twitter feed, or use that same feed to commit PR suicide by calling Cosby innocent.
It’s not that Kanye never before seemed to act on a whim—see “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” or the Taylor Swift VMAs incident—but it’s surprising to see him seem to allow so much chaos in his creative process. It’s even more surprising for him to allow the audience to witness it.
The culmination of this ongoing demonstration of how madness and premeditation can coexist came at Thursday night’s unveiling of West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion line and new album The Life of Pablo in a Madison Square Garden event simulcast in theaters and online to a reported 20 million viewers. The public didn’t get many details about what was about to happen; many of the people who paid up to three-figure sums for tickets expected a concert, as would be typical for a musician at Madison Square Garden. Instead, West stood behind a rig on the floor of the arena as his album reverberated from speakers above Yeezy-clad models acting out choreography by the artist Vanessa Beecroft. After the album finished, West made remarks that some will label “a rant,” and then played a few extemporaneously chosen songs from his catalogue and others, using Soundcloud. At one point, the thousands in attendance heard the sound of a message notification from his laptop.