Kylie Jenner would very much like you to watch her new reality show, Life With Kylie, because she wants to be as memorable—if not more so—than her sisters. She also wants to be “normal,” as she insists over and over again in the premiere episodes of the show. The trouble is that normal is not an option. What’s normal about a reality show that uses Snapchats as B-roll? What’s normal about Kylie’s life at all? Nothing. As viewers, we’ve accepted that. Kylie, on the other hand, has not and will spend the duration of this program trying to work that out.
The press lead-up for the show has been especially strange; the presumption, of course, is that its target audience is a generation unused to viewing content via anything other than their devices. Snapchat and Instagram have become Kylie’s preferred method of communication and the show leans heavily on that, using footage from her Snapchat stories and Instagram photos in between segments. Perhaps it was an artistic choice, meant to convey just how abnormal her life is, or maybe the producers were lazy and thought it might be easier to use what was already available rather than shooting something new. The choice is a strange and the experience of watching the show is not unlike viewing a very long video produced specifically for Facebook, where the dialogue is written out as captions, tailored for people watching on headphones in an office or on line at the post office.
Kylie has been on Keeping Up With the Kardashians since she was 9 years old, which means that at the tender age of 19, she has spent almost half her life existing for the cameras. As a result of this very unique experience, her public-facing self and her private self have fused into one. This is the premise that the show is based on and from the first two episodes, it certainly seems to be the case. Kylie introduces us to her friends first: Jordyn, her best friend who at one point admits that Kylie is kind of like a “needy girlfriend”; Ariel, her makeup artist whom she found on Instagram who is a “diva” but only “when he’s tan”; Tokyo, the man in charge of her wigs; and Victoria, her “executive assistant” who spends a lot of time on the telephone wrangling the various moving parts it takes to make Kylie Jenner.
What’s notable about Kylie’s life, as presented by E! in a half-hour television show, is not the activities she and her posse actually participate in, but the way Kylie comes off. In the first episode, she accepts the offer to go to prom with one of her many fans—a surprise for him that is also meant to give her a chance at the normalcy she so craves. She chooses a prom dress from a rack of designer gowns hanging out in a spare bedroom and then endures some brief plane drama: the private jet they were taking to Sacramento to meet Albert, the person Kylie is surprising for prom, won’t make it on time. Flying commercial, of course, is an option, but the hordes of people and paparazzi at every airport make that less desirable. Thanks to the magic her executive assistant spins, Kylie and her crew make it on a flight—private, after all—and arrive just in time to surprise Albert who takes Kylie Jenner and her crew to prom, just like he always wanted. At one point, she tells the camera that she hoped going to prom with Albert will change people’s perspectives of him, but why would it? Technically, Albert asked Kylie Jenner to go to prom with him on Instagram and she picked him out of the hundreds of people who ask the same of her every single day. There appears to be no method to her selection; if there was, we were not privy to it. Likely thanks to a great deal of behind the scenes machinations and paperwork, Albert was selected and Kylie got to have her “normal” prom experience, which is full of screaming Sacramaento-area teens shoving cell phones in her face while she asks a beleaguered dance chaperone to find them a private space.
“I’m not that kind of person where I want all the attention. It reminds me that I’m Kylie fucking Jenner,” she says at one point, after describing her sisters and their ease with the spotlight. The edit is clearly meant to make us feel sorry for her, and for a brief while, I do. Living a life in front of cameras and being expected to perform for those cameras seems trying to say the least; remember, though, that high school is a nightmare and Kylie’s high school experience was robbed from her by filming the TV show that propelled her to this level of “fame.” It’s currently still making her money, as is the show she’s making now. She doesn’t know what else to do—acting like “Kylie Jenner” is truly the only thing she knows.
It’s hard to tell what the producers want viewers to feel watching this woman live her life under a microscope of her own design. Sympathy is encouraged via sad music and a plot point in the second episode that sees Jordyn taking Kylie to a beach under the cover of night so that they can have some “normalcy.” As they walk on the beach, hand in hand, dressed in sweats and surrounded by a full-on camera crew, Kylie bemoans her current state of existence. “I feel like this fame thing is going to come to an end sooner than you think,” she says to Jordyn. She does seem genuinely sad, and it seems like she means it. But it’s ultimately disingenuous to hear it on a show that’s being produced by the same channel that made her.