From one perspective, Kylie Jenner is a glowing gorgeous moon revolving around the world of Kanye West — the greatest artist of our generation. Furthermore, if Kylie is the moon, then I am the stars and I shine for her, for other people too and for other reasons: like to create carbon and hydrogen in my core, thus facilitating life and materiality. If stars are mothers then Kylie is a star. If it were appropriate I would write her a sonnet, but those are not the times we live in. This sonnet would talk about how lonely the stars can seem, how far away from the public they are, ultimately how everyone can see their surfaces from nearly any distance.
She is a problematic favorite to say the least, with her blatant appropriation of Black and Latina hair, fashion, and makeup styles. It certainly can’t be excused, but it can be temporarily glossed over with the acknowledgement that nearly all celebrities and corporations are passively complicit in a system that oppresses the most defenseless people residing within it.
This isn’t an essay about all of that though, rather I’d like to talk about the announcement of her child’s birth, which is, as it stands, a piece of youtube history and maybe a piece of cinematic history, if not art history at large. The video’s cultural significance was not lost on me, nor was its mass-consumability, but these things were eclipsed by the strong sense of nostalgia and longing that the video evokes. If art is spectacle, and if it is meant to produce strong desires and emotions in its consumer, then I feel compelled to call this video art.
At the start of the eleven minute long film, we see VHS footage of a young Kris Jenner, pregnant and gleeful in a hospital bed anticipating the birth of Kylie, one of her many successful business endeavours/children, with a bare piano melody lilting softly in the background. Within the first twenty seconds of the video, baby Kylie has emerged into the world. From the start, the sense of time in this video is linear yet fragmented, with occasional frames of darkness while transitioning between footage and angles, further enforcing the artificially “homemade” nature of the video. Aw look at her, look at her, the phrase Kylie heard upon her birth and one that likely follows her everywhere in public. Cue Travi$ Scott, It’s lit.
With over one hundred and four million instagram followers, Kylie is one of the most “watched” twenty-year olds in the world. She makes the surveillance state seem glamorous.
It’s nice to be seen, as Prince once said. For Kylie, it also pays to be seen.
At around thirty seconds, we jolt back to the present, or the more immediate-past. We see friends of Kylie addressing her baby directly, and it is here that we glean the nature of the video. In the style of a home movie, it is meant to be a keepsake for the baby to watch when she becomes more cognizant of language and narrative. It is like a time capsule, a gift.
However, the video is not just for her, the baby, who we now know is named Stormi Scott, taking the last name of her acclaimed father, rapper/producer Travi$ Scott. It is not just for Stormi, rather none of it is; it is all for the masses. It is consumer goods, memorabilia, ephemera, a rush of feelings and desire, and most importantly it’s a way to shepherd us closer into the fold of the Kardashian-Jenner-West family dynasty. The ever-growing clan dominates the television we consume, the music we listen to, and the makeup and fashion we buy. Their children’s lives are our privilege to engage in. If cash is king, then the Kardashians are our royal family; they produce money by simply existing.
Their day-to-day lives are packaged into tidy narratives by skillful editors and presented to millions of viewers for entertainment value, but the cultural implications extend far beyond that. These sisters, spurred on by a driven and business savvy mother, create trends, steer consumers, and exist in an easily digestible form, safe enough for cable television. They use social media to skillfully and gently transgress their television facades, but ultimately only present another layer of artifice separating the viewer from the subject. The artistry implicit in “Keeping Up With The Kardashian’s” ability to suspend disbelief and convince us that these moments we see through the camera’s lens are wholly reflective of the real inner lives of these human beings should not be overlooked. Let us not forget that OJ Simpson almost committed suicide in Kim Kardashian’s childhood room or Kanye’s fits of mania and intense musical genius. Cue Kanye West Wifey gonna kill me, she the female OJ. Let us not forget the ugliness of our own lives, and the skeletons that we all try to hide through the device of social media. I think that part of the impulse to hide Kylie’s pregnancy from the public stems from her young age. In a perfectly manicured, apolitical, and consumer-friendly family, the twenty-year-old daughter tends not to have an unwed pregnancy with one of the most famous rappers of recent history.
Through the video, through keeping pictures of Kylie’s pregnant belly out of the paparazzi’s intimidating and relentless gaze, and through cheeky, if not also shady Calvin Klein advertisements, featuring Kylie skulking in the backgrounds of many shots with her womb conveniently hidden — media mogul Kris Jenner and her family were able to control the narrative of Stormi’s birth to a degree. Throughout the video we see endearingly grainy footage of Travi$ Scott and Kylie canoodling and cuddling while airy violins and strings play softly underneath. These scenes serve as evidence that the child has been born into a loving family. Her friend’s recount hearing the news of her pregnancy, we see ultrasound pictures, and we see people reacting to these photos. We learn that many of her friends believe Kylie was destined for motherhood. We see a glorious assemblage of family members filled with joy and it’s easy to remember why the Kardashian’s occupy so many living rooms for an hour or more each week. We see them share meals. Stars abound. We are assured that this baby will be loved and lavished upon. She will receive boundless attention. To have a large family is to never be alone. That is a truth of life that could soften even the hardest of hearts. The value of these family connections only increase as our society becomes more isolated. What this baby has is something that can and will only exist in the nostalgic past for many working-class people Kylie’s age, with little prospect of comfortably affording marriage or children in the foreseeable future. Instead of scandalizing the family, her pregnancy and the accompanying video art has provided her fans with the images of a wish-fulfilling dream.