After weeks of much speculation, it looks like it might be the end for the most perfect example of celebrity brand synergy. Caitlin McBride takes a fascinating look back over Kimye: The relationship…[restrict]
In the world of Kim Kardashian, there are only two relevant timelines: Before Kanye (BK) and After Kanye (AK). BK, Kim was a reality TV queen with a signature bouncy blow-dry from which she never wavered. She had a penchant for dating – and marrying – professional athletes and whose idea of high fashion was wearing different shades of Hervé Léger’s bandage dress. This might sound intended as shade, but it’s not – I too subscribed to the idea that an Hervé Léger dress (and its Lipsy rip-offs) was the epitome of style in the mid-noughties. She was far from a wannabe, but had to yet crack the upper echelons of fame she so desperately aspired to.
2012 marked the official beginning of AK: after Kim and Kanye began dating, Kim’s life transformed, as did everyone in the wider Kardashian-Jenner ecosystem. Her family, although rich and famous, were often relegated as reality TV fodder, minimised as silly women doing silly things on a silly TV show. But Kanye’s interest legitimised them in the eyes of mainstream media and the coverage veered from fawning to befuddlement. People were somehow mystified that a famous man might fall in love with a famous woman who was drop-dead gorgeous, hugely successful and, well, seems to like herself and her family.
Over the following two years, their relationship was documented obsessively by newspapers, magazines and the continuously growing digital ecosphere. It was hard not to become swept up in their fairytale wedding in Florence in 2014. This was Kim’s third wedding, but it seemed she had finally met her soulmate, and fans – including me – ate it right up.
At the time, Keeping Up with The Kardashians was still a television juggernaut, the family had not yet weaponised social media to further control their personal narratives and it was the only medium through which you could access the ‘real’ side of the Kardashians. Watching superstar Kanye West enter the fold changed the entire dynamic: suddenly, Kim was being fitted for her wedding gown at Givenchy’s headquarters in Paris and no longer selling overpriced blouses at her family’s DASH boutique in Calabasas.
We watched in discomfort as Kanye took a literal hands-on approach to overhauling her image, throwing out clothes he didn’t like from her wardrobe and demanding approval for everything she wore going forward. The relationship seemed to bestow a validation on Kim that her own efforts had not allowed her. Kanye’s rebrand worked in winning over the fashion world. West, now a fashion designer as well as a musician, has described his wife as his muse, but it was hardly the foundation for a healthy relationship.
And Kanye’s inner circle reportedly took convincing of her worthiness: his close friend Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue, famously cropped Kim from a picture with him at the 2013 Met Gala when she was heavily pregnant with their first child. The fact that Beyonce and Jay-Z, the veritable king and queen of music and celebrity, reportedly never warmed to her was all that critics needed to justify their distaste.
Theirs was hardly a love story paved with turmoil, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing either. Kim’s sex tape was often used as an excuse to belittle her accomplishments, a metaphoric scarlet letter with which to brandish her as being unworthy of such fame and, by extension, true love.
Like all promising love stories, Kanye became obsessed with Kim for nearly a decade after seeing a picture of her. He became friends with her, publicly pleaded with her not to marry ex-husband Kris Humphries (which, in retrospect was actually good advice), they began dating in 2012, and eventually married in 2014. In his wedding speech, Kanye described her as the ‘ideal celebrity’. See, healthy?
Ticking the box
While Kanye and Kim have always been a subject of fascination, it hasn’t exactly been fun to watch them. He was clearly devoted to his craft and she adopted a Victoria Beckham-esque stoicism in red carpet and paparazzi photos. It is this reason why it’s hard to pick out any #CoupleGoals moments from which to refer. His proposal to her on KUWTK was genuinely heartfelt and typically ostentatious, but their other public appearances often felt like they were ticking off one another’s increasingly aspirational bucket lists.
Met Gala? Tick.
Time 100’s Most Influential People? Tick.
Most of the couple’s iconic moments are shaped around fashion, which is of no surprise given the success of West’s label Yeezy and Kim’s lifelong devotion to style; a woman who quite literally makes the world her runway. But fashion does not a marriage make. I take no joy in a celebrity divorce, but as a Kim apologist, I only want what’s best for her.
Her demonstrated personal growth in advocating for prison reform and studying to become a lawyer is genuinely admirable. All the while, she has maintained an almost mythical sense of vanity, something which I find oddly compelling; she is unashamedly herself. She makes no secret of her narcissism, and for that, I commend her.
Mental health struggles
Life is, of course, more complicated for Kanye, as it often is for those with mental illness. His bipolar diagnosis has been the trigger for a number of headlines, often used in referencing his erratic behaviour. Last year their dichotomous paths became clearer: he ran for president of the United States under the ‘Birthday Party’ while Kim was giving speeches at the White House with prisoners she helped free.
She publicly supported him when his behaviour became cause for concern, opening up a healthy dialogue around mental health, and articulating a dilemma that will have been recognised by millions whose loved ones are suffering. “Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behaviour know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” she wrote. “People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individuals themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”
She pleaded for “compassion and empathy” in the discussion around mental health, which triggered more nuanced coverage around his failed Presidential bid and worrisome public comments. Their frankness around bipolar disorder encouraged a more respectful tone around mental health issues and celebrity.
Now, rumours are rife that the couple are headed for a divorce, hardly a surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with Kim; the couple, who have four children together, have been on diverging paths for years. For all their flaws they were clearly compatible, at least for some time, and share four impossibly cute children together. As I said, I never take pleasure in a celebrity divorce announcement, because divorce is painful whether you live in Beverly Hills or Bundoran, but I’m shocked at how… ‘meh’ I’ve found this news to be.
Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, perhaps it’s because Kim has changed radically in the last seven years or perhaps it’s because we’ve humanised our celebrities and especially the complicated ones. Kim and Kanye will always represent a moment in the pop culture zeitgeist. A sort of perfect synergy of brands we may never see the likes of again.
Images from @kimkardashian on Instagram[/restrict]