On July 4, 2020, Kanye West announced via Twitter his intention to run for the presidency of the United States. West was going to run as an Independent under the name “Birthday Party,” the meaning of which he explained in an interview by Forbes: “Because when we win, it’s everyone’s birthday.”
West also announced his platform would be modeled off of the foundational tenets of Wakanda, the fictional kingdom from the movie Black Panther. Many saw West’s presidential run as nothing more than a publicity stunt to promote his upcoming music. West hotly denied this and in order to prove his intentions said, “I give my album away for free.” West registered for the party late, did not assemble teams in any battleground states and only made a single campaign appearance in North Charleston, South Carolina.
With the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the threat of economic collapse, West was still able to get on the ballot in 12 states. He was also able to secure about 60,000 total votes with a reported $9 million of his own money put into the campaign. After losing, West conceded in a tweet that read “WELP KANYE 2024” on November 4, 2020.
While most Americans did not believe West was a viable contender in the presidential race, there was legitimate fear he would take votes away from the Biden/Harris ticket which could help Trump secure re-election. Perhaps not as terrifying a thought prior to Trump’s election in 2016, the idea of a presidential candidate or actual president with unmanaged or untreated bipolar disorder was still somewhat alarming. According to the Guardian, “it is impossible to tell whether his controversial statements stem from manic episodes, or a carefully contrived strategy to stay in the headlines; his flirtation with Trump possibly as manipulated as his wife Kim’s nude photos.”
West has stated in the past that although he identifies as a Black man, the Black community does not accept him. With his personal support of Trump and his own presidential bid, which many saw as convoluted support for Trump because it would take votes from Biden, Black people felt betrayed by West. He had been tweeting out support for Donald Trump for many years. His continued public praise for Trump, a man who once referred to white supremacists as “very fine people,” led to widespread condemnation of West. To make matters worse, in a TMZ interview, West said that 400 years of slavery was “a choice.” West’s comment was condemned by fellow rappers, actors and prominent civil rights activists. His rhetoric seemed to fuel right-wing racist rhetoric and made many question why he supports a “slave master” (Trump) and not his own people.
West’s Sunday service
With controversy usually in close proximity to West, he continually turns to God. West continues to host a weekly Christian gathering known as The Sunday Service. According to Fader.com: “Combining Kanye’s love of music, fashion and Jesus Christ, Sunday Service is religion hand-crafted for the social media age.” It is held every Sunday in various places around the country and attendees must follow the strict dress code of Yeezy-only apparel. Sunday Service consists of “gospel-inspired remixes of classic songs of different genres, and also just straight choir-led gospel tunes,” according to Fader.com. This type of music at a church service is similar to the Black Baptist church but Fader reports many involved “insist it’s not a church.”
A personal childhood friend, Peyton Fraley, attended an in-person Sunday Service in Los Angeles and remembers “Kanye’s service at the Forum was unique to say the least. Some were there just because the tickets were cheap and they wanted to be in the same space as Kanye, and some were there for religious reasons. I remember the physical space of the arena smelling overwhelmingly like weed and he was praising God, so it was definitely an unusual combination. The music and the entire performance itself was really well done. It was like nothing I had seen or experienced before.”
West tends to attract drama with every movement and decision he makes. Whether that is by design or simply a by-product of his highly unusual and unapologetic branding and beliefs, it does not come without great personal difficulty. Allegedly his presidential bid was evidence to those closest to him that he was struggling to manage his bipolar disorder.
West’s actions and patterns in the summer of 2020 placed incredible stress on his marriage with Kim Kardashian. In November Elle reported, “Kim has work and projects that are important to her, and Kanye has his. Their lives don’t overlap much.” Whether this Hollywood marriage survives or not, West will likely continue to lean heavily on his religion, his musical career and the possibility of a future celebrity presidential run. It’s not too far-fetched to think a Third Culture Kid, quadruple threat rapper, record producer, record executive and fashion designer couldn’t someday also occupy the highest political office in the nation.