On Thursday afternoon, Kanye West held an event at Madison Square Garden during which he played his new album, The Life of Pablo, for the first time before a huge crowd. This being Kanye, it wasn’t just a mega listening session, but also a visual art piece and a showcase for Yeezy Season 3, featuring stoic models in muted and neutral tones. Many of them had signed up (through online recruitment) to serve as sculptures in what turned out to be a long, exhausting, thrilling experience for some. One of the models spoke anonymously to Jezebel. Here’s her dispatch of the day’s events, as told to Clover Hope.
The day before the show, on Wednesday morning, I got a text message saying: You’ve been chosen as an extra for Kanye West’s show. Click here to print your ticket. It had all these rules on how to arrive: No nail polish, no jewelry, no makeup, don’t style your hair, dress cool, dress nice, wear jeans and sneakers. It was all very strange. I found out about it through a friend who wrangled me to go with her. When my friend didn’t get chosen, I was like, I’m not going; 10 hours for 100 dollars isn’t worth it. I like Kanye, but I don’t care that much.
But every one of my friends and family members were like, “This is such a cool opportunity.” “It’ll never come around again.” “You have to do it.” I was peer-pressured into doing it and, in a way, I regret not listening to my instincts.
The call time was 8 o’clock. Instructions said to arrive early to Madison Square Garden. Apparently at exactly 8, they put a cone down, so whoever arrived after 8 was part of the waitlisted crew. I got there around 8:03. Throughout the day, there were different people from the production company leading the way. There was one big director for the whole thing and we didn’t interact with him until later in the day when we rehearsed in the arena. We never heard directly from Kanye.
We stood out in the freezing cold, 19 degrees, for a good 45 minutes. And then once you did go in and you were approved, you got an NDA to sign. There were like 15 different buses—and this is where it got weird.
We were bused to a warehouse in New Jersey. It took maybe 20 minutes to get there. And they don’t tell you anything. There’s no instructions. It’s just, “Line up in a single file. Here’s this NDA. Here’s a bag to put your cell phone in.” And you’re just on a bus. You have no idea where you’re going until you’re going through the Lincoln Tunnel. I didn’t really understand why it had to be in Jersey. I had my cell phone up until we got to the warehouse. I was texting my friends a play-by-play, saying in case I go missing this is where I am.
As we were getting off the bus, we had to turn in our forms and cell phones and then go into this warehouse. The warehouse is this huge open space lined with racks and racks and racks of clothes and different color schemes: the tan section, the burgundy section, the green section. They dressed you there.
Two buses would come through, they would dress them, and then another two buses would come through. It was like a really big assembly line. It was literally like a factory. You go through, you get your outfit, go to the shoe section and get your shoes, go to the hat section and get your hat. Put it on, take your picture, go out, get on the bus again.
They had a bunch of interns or whomever was producing the show at each section or station, and they would send one model, like, “You go to the leotard area.” A person there would put on looks for you, you try them on, and if they didn’t like it, they’d give you something else to try on. Each person got one outfit. There weren’t any outfit changes.
I think a misconception was that the clothes the extras were wearing were from the Yeezy collection. All the shoes were Adidas, but the clothes were thrift store finds that I think they dyed to be the same color scheme.
When I first got to the warehouse, I was like, how in the world did he produce all of these pieces. Then I realized they weren’t his label. The models that were wearing his designs were all on the platform, but they were also mixed in with some of the extras.
On the bus driving back to the Garden, there was a moment when I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. I feel like I’m headed to a concentration camp. It feels odd. I don’t know anybody. It was a weird feeling.
We went back, they gave us sandwiches—Subway—and we were instructed to wait in the arena for hair and makeup. This is the best part. Hair and makeup consisted of the choice between lotion or coconut oil. And hair was pretty much just making sure your hair wasn’t too style or adding a head scarf. Extremely minimalist.
We got an instructions list when we got there: “Stay in character.” “Don’t smile.” “No sharp movements.” And they repeated it to us over and over. They read it so many times so we didn’t forget. My favorite was, “Don’t be cool.” I understand why it was useful, because it was a group of a thousand extras, and some of them were very uncooperative, some a little rowdy. A lot of them were just really excited to be there. To wrangle everybody together to behave how you want them to was very difficult and they did a great job accomplishing what they wanted, given that you’re trying to control a thousand twenty-somethings.
I think legally they can’t be like, only black models. That was never discussed. But I started to notice it as we were loading on the bus, and then I definitely realized it when we got to the warehouse. Like, there’s not one white person, even Asian, Hispanic.
I remember texting my friend on the bus, like: “I honestly feel like Kanye’s about to make some political activist statement and if he has me up here dressed like a slave to make some sort of blactivist moment, I’m gonna be so pissed.”
And it turns out, one of our instructions was that the theme was channeling a Rwandan refugee camp. We were Rwandan refugees. At this point, my mind was so blown. I was exhausted. I had been standing around for hours. I was honestly over it. I was like, I literally cannot believe Kanye has us out here dressed like refugees on this stage and we’re supposed to look sad and angry.
While everyone filled in the arena, we were covered with a silk tarp and once it pulled away, we’re in character.
You have to zone out, stare at a point, make sure you’re not smiling, try to really concentrate and focus. It’s hard because the sound system is intense. Your whole body is vibrating. That was probably the best moment, that first 30 minutes of the show. Your adrenaline’s rushing, the crowd’s screaming, and the music is literally coursing through your veins. It takes a lot of focus and concentration to not smile out of anxiety. It was surreal.
I found myself sort of moving to the music and I had to stop. After a while when we realized he’s not just playing a couple songs, he’s about to go into a major rant, he’s gonna show his mother’s video twice, this is gonna be a long day, we started moving around. We were instructed to be statues, but there was a point where I shifted my weight and turned to get a different viewpoint. You start getting dizzy from standing there and staring at one point for so long. We were probably standing for like an hour and a half.
At the end, my whole body was stiff. What was going through my mind was, Don’t fuck this up. Don’t have a panic attack. This is awesome. And then it’s like, Holy shit what am I actually doing? I’m standing in the middle of Madison Square Garden at a Kanye West show. I can panic right now or I can just breathe and enjoy the moment.
You’re so close to all the speakers and everything is so amplified that it’s hard to hear everything he’s saying. When I went back and watched the live stream, everything came together. His album is fire. His album is awesome. It was interesting that he said it’s a gospel album, but he’s talking about fucking Taylor Swift and Ray J fucking his wife. Not like any gospel album I’ve ever heard.
Once I turned one way, I could see the whole Kardashian clan. Lamar Odom first. We kind of had no instructions. They were like: “When the show’s over just walk this way.” But the show never really ended. The music kept playing, the audience was still there. We were all just like, Okay, do we still stand here? How long do we stand here? There was part of the extras group that just went off and started dancing at some point.
This was a great example of the fashion industry as a whole, that from an outsider’s perspective it looks so glamorous. Everyone’s like, I can’t believe you did that, that’s so cool. And I’m literally like, if you knew the experience you probably wouldn’t be saying that. Yes, now I can tell my kids I was in a Kanye West show, but the entire 12-hour day itself was pretty excruciating. And by the end of it I was ready to run out of there and just get home.
There were people in the group that were like, “This is the best day of my life!” Mentally, it was tough because you’re figuring it out as you go along. You’re just expected to comply and follow. I felt like cattle. I felt like I was being herded into a concentration camp or something. It’s not something I would want to do again. But I wouldn’t say I regretted it.
It took almost an hour to get everybody wrangled together to turn in our looks and get our phones back. That whole process was when I really started to go crazy, sitting in this auditorium waiting for my number to be called. There was a point where I was like, “Fuck Kanye for this.”
At the end of it I’m like, he actually is crazy. I think there’s a line in one of his songs that’s like, “Name one genius that isn’t crazy.” I remember hearing that while I was on stage and at that moment it clicked. Alright. Name one genius that isn’t crazy.
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