Kanye West’s residency in Atlanta United stadium just another bizarre stunt

Could this set a precedent? U2 at Croke Park? Christy Moore in Newbridge?

Kanye West at a listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Universal Music Group

Kanye West at a listening event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Universal Music Group

 

At a certain point in Atlanta United’s 1-0 defeat by the Columbus Crew on July 24th, members of the club’s hardcore fans, the Terminus Legion, were giving a lusty rendition of their “Ole, Ole, Ole, (Yo-o-o soy Atlanta)” song when Kanye West appeared in their midst.

A startling vision in red jacket and matching pants, wearing what looked suspiciously like a pair of tights pulled over his face, he walked among them with phone in hand, filming their singing, recording the relentless thud of their bass drums. Some supporters looked shocked at the sight, others utterly nonplussed. As if a lad dressed like a bank robber, ringfenced by bodyguards in balaclavas, is a regular presence at Major League soccer matches.

Most locals probably knew by then that West had taken up residence in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a 71,000-seater that is also home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Having arrived at the venue the previous Thursday to host a listening party for his forthcoming album, Donda, he prepared for that event by recording last minute additions to songs in the visitors’ locker-room, alongside collaborators like 2 Chainz. By the time the Columbus Crew got to the facility two days later, he was still there. And not for moving. The Crew were forced to tog out in another room because West had commandeered the space to finish his latest musical masterpiece.

Recording studio

United’s chief executive Darren Eales confirmed that West had indeed brought in 10 beds and set up a makeshift recording studio so he could add the final touches to Donda in that particular place. You’d imagine when he worked at Tottenham Hotspur or West Bromwich Albion in his previous jobs, Eales never had to deal with a multiple Grammy winner transforming one corner of the away dressing room into a spartan cell because the vibe was working for him. Needless to say, Chas and Dave would surely have composed further lyrical paeans to Ossie Ardiles if they had ever been afforded artists-in-residence status inside draughty, old White Hart Lane.

Although the world is full of middle-aged philistines like this one who proudly profess to have never knowingly heard one of his songs, West is, apparently, something akin to the incomparable Prince Rogers Nelson for millennials. Eccentric genius, laced with outrageousness, is his brand. Even those of us deaf to his musical accomplishments (call us the Taribo West generation) do know a little about his shoe-designing, a sideline gig that has seen him cobbling together runners for Nike and Adidas over the years.

By creating limited editions of every sneaker bearing his nickname Yeezy, firing up the hype in advance on social media, and subsequently overcharging for them, he creates such insane levels of demand that people have actually killed for them. No matter their awfulness, and some editions look like they were entirely based on the classroom doodles of a very bored teen, they are all sought-after collectors’ items, generating billions of dollars in sales. Whatever the merits of his musical output then, there’s definitely something ingenious about a boondoggle that lucrative.

West’s lifestyle and persona have long been so ludicrous and ostentatious (honeymooning in Laois) that initial reports he was living in an empty stadium were taken as seriously as the urban legend that he once scored 106 points in a charity basketball game against a team of opponents in wheelchairs. As if. Yet, the moment this particular story proved true, fresh rumours whirled that he was paying $1 million to stay in the stadium until his muse is exhausted. The kind of extremes of exaggeration he routinely inspires and seems to encourage.

Troubling behaviour

It’s easy to knock hilarity out of the whole business except this is part of a pattern of troubling behaviour that lends itself to the view West might be in the middle of a prolonged and very public breakdown. This time last year, he was running a presidential campaign so wrong-headed and ill-fated that it contributed to the end of his marriage to Kim Kardashian. Among a litany of demented public utterances, he has declared “slavery was a choice”, compared the treatment of modern celebrities to “blacks in the sixties”, and described Donald Trump as his brother because they both share “dragon energy”.

Through it all, his fans remain so devoted that 42,000 of them turned up to the listening party at the Mercedes-Benz last month. Even after he made them wait for two extra hours before appearing, they were captivated by him merely standing in the middle of the empty field playing them his record. The lesson here is surely there’s fecund ground to be tilled yet by wily Irish performers.

The Frank and Walters could surely wring a slice of indie perfection out of a short stint bedding down in the Donie Forde Stand in their beloved Turner’s Cross. U2 might be revitalised by a few weeks living in Croker, rekindling that unforgettable night long ago when Bono declared, “The Jacks are back! And what an All-Ireland we have for you tonight!” Van Morrison to Ravenhill? Christy Moore to Newbridge? The possibilities are endless.

There may be some initial hesitancy among other artists to take the plunge, at least until the critics figure out whether West’s unusual sabbatical has yielded something memorable or mediocre. More on that score when he hosts another listening party tonight. It’s at the Mercedes-Benz stadium. Or home, as he calls it now.

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