On July 24, 2021, Britney Spears published an emotional message on her Instagram account. “Coming along, folks ... coming along 🖕🏻!!!!! New with real representation today ... I feel GRATITUDE and BLESSED !!!! Thank you to my fans who are supporting me ... You have no idea what it means to me be supported by such awesome fans !!!!” The text was accompanied by a video of the singer riding a horse and doing cartwheels on a lawn. Spears was celebrating the latest step toward ending her father’s conservatorship, which saw him control her finances and personal communications. That day, she used the hashtag #FreeBritney for the first time, after her fans had turned it into a phenomenon on social media – one that gained such traction, that her emancipation became a reality in November of last year.
Spears’ continued and spontaneous use of Instagram during that legal process was similar to a kind of personal and intimate daily diary – albeit one that her nearly 40 million followers could read too. Among her posts, of which there was more than one a day, there were images with inspirational phrases, the covers of self-help books, snaps of food, selfies, videos of her dancing, memes, and images of her fiance, model Sam Asghari. Spears’ Instagram account became her direct link with the world, a self-portrait that exuded innocence, sensitivity, optimism and naturalness.
Kanye West’s account, meanwhile, is the polar opposite. For someone who has never seen it before, they could be deceived: At the time of writing, there were just three publications: two images with the lyrics of songs called Divorce and Dead, and a photo (since deleted) of West accompanied by a text that explains that his new album, Donda 2, is not eligible for the music charts given that it is only available on an exclusive platform called Stem Player.
His 11th album, which is a follow-up to Donda and has come out just a few months after its predecessor, contains unfinished versions of songs and is missing tracks that had been previously announced, and as if that weren’t enough, you have to pay $200 to acquire Stem Player in the first place. That lack of accessibility, clarity and permanence are also there to see on West’s Instagram account, where the singer of Runaway has, for months now, been publishing confusing and controversial messages, only to later delete them.
If the daily posts from Britney Spears are full of light, flowers, smiles and messages of overcoming problems, those of Kanye West are filled with torn-out, wrinkled and scorched pages, filled with scrawls and scratches. He has long been a controversial public figure, having had disagreements with other celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose. He also claimed that Bill Cosby was innocent of sexual assault allegations, and infamously took to wearing one of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. But his use of Instagram (he was previously more active on Twitter) is now reaching levels of hostility and confusion that have never been seen before, either in his own personal history or in digital culture in general.
The publication and subsequent deletion of messages began to increase at the end of last year, and has shot up yet further through February, influenced by the divorce from his now ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her new relationship with Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson. The majority of the posts were aimed at the new couple, and the fact that three of the most-famous faces in the United States have been airing their dirty laundry in public has dominated the tabloids, but also the culture and music press, with headlines such as “Everything Kanye West has said on Instagram this week.”
In fact, it is West who is airing all of the dirty laundry, without his ex-wife nor her partner able to do a thing about it. One of the most-commented incidents took place over the weekend of the Super Bowl, February 13 and 14. The rapper and producer shared such shocking messages that he decided to publish a photo of himself holding a yellow notepad with the date and a message that read: “My account is not hacked,” just in case anyone could not believe it was really him.
One of West’s posts included a message that Davidson had sent him saying that “as a man I’d never get in the way of your children,” and that he hoped to meet them some day. Next to the screenshot of the message West had written (the caps are his): “NO YOU WILL NEVER MEET MY CHILDREN.” He also shared a picture of a truck full of roses, supposedly a gift from West to his ex-wife for Valentine’s Day, and called on his followers to assault Davidson, whom he calls “Skete,” writing: “IF ANYONE LOVES ME AND MY FAMILY IF YOU SEE SKETE IN REAL LIFE SCREAM AT THE LOOSER [SIC] AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS AND SAY KIMYE FOREVER,” “Kimye” being a reference to his relationship with Kardashian (West legally changed his name to Ye last October). He also offered to double the Saturday Night Live salary of Davidson’s colleague on the show, Michael Che, “JUST SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT THAT PAWN EVER AGAIN.”
Valentine’s Day was complicated this year for Kim Kardashian, who sent a message to her ex-husband calling on him to stop inciting his followers to assault Davidson. West responded by sharing a screenshot of the message and writing on Instagram: “UPON MY WIFE’S REQUEST PLEASE NOBODY DO ANYTHING PHYSICAL TO SKETE. I’M GOING TO HANDLE THE SITUATION MYSELF.” Then he shared another screenshot of the conversation with the mother of his four children, who asked him why he couldn’t keep their conversations private. “CAUSE I GOT A TEXT FROM MY FAVORITE PERSON IN THE WORLD,” he wrote. “I’M YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN. WHY WOULDN’T I TELL EVERYONE!!!” Then, shortly after, he deleted everything.
West has spoken in the past about his bipolar disorder, and admitted that there are times when he doesn’t take his medication because it affects his creativity. His tantrums on Instagram don’t appear to be a good sign with regard to his current state, but it is true that they are in line with something that has always interested the musician: controlling his own public narrative.
The question is, what is the narrative that West wants to transmit? Depending on the day, he has stated that God wants to get him back together with Kardashian, he has attacked Davidson, and he has shared pictures of his family together with affectionate words.
On another occasion, he shared a mockup of the poster for Captain America: Civil War, apparently created by him, and in which he superimposed pictures of himself along with hip-hop starts Drake, Travis Scott and Future, as well as his then-girlfriend Julia Fox; and on the opposing side, Pete Davidson, with Kim Kardashian, Billie Eilish, Kid Cudi and Taylor Swift.
Kanye West shares edited ‘Captain America: Civil War’ poster on Instagram featuring:— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) February 13, 2022
• Julia Fox
• Travis Scott
• Pete Davidson
• Kim Kardashian
• Kid Cudi
• Billie Eilish
• Taylor Swift pic.twitter.com/1KERuYiYfA
What’s genuinely concerning, however, is West’s aggressive tone and abusive behavior toward Kim Kardashian, whom he accuses of coming between him and their four children. After she criticized his behavior, on February 14 he shared a photo of himself with this message: “I know sharing screenshots was jarring and came off as harassing Kim. I take accountability. I’m still learning in real time. I don’t have all the answers. To be a good leader is to be a good listener.”
However, two hours later he shared a photo of a roadside billboard that had the following message written on it: “Stop telling fathers they should have fought harder to see their children & start asking mothers why he had to fight at all.” One post included an image from the movie Baby Boy (2001), in which actor Ving Rhames has Tyrese Gibson in a headlock. West tagged Gibson’s face with Kim Kardashian’s Instagram handle.