It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back: sportswear giant Adidas has terminated their relationship with the hip-hop artist and fashion designer formerly known as Kanye West effective immediately after the latter’s recent anti-Semitic comments. Is this the end of Kanye?
Adidas has said that it “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” and that West’s recent statements are “unacceptable, hateful and dangerous.”
Adidas’ move comes just months after American clothing retailer GAP announced they would “wind down” their partnership with Ye (Kanye’s favoured moniker these days), only weeks after Adidas said they had placed the Yeezy relationship “under review”, and days after luxury fashion house Balenciaga, style magazine Vogue and talent agency CAA all similarly distanced themselves from the controversial rapper. Yikes.
The news must come as a bit of a shock to Ye, who also only days ago bragged during a podcast interview that he could say whatever anti-Semitic comments he wanted and Adidas wouldn’t drop him. For a German company whose founder was a member of the Nazi Party, Kanye’s anti-Semitism is more than a little awkward.
Both Adidas and Kanye will be stinging from this. Currently, Adidas and Kanye’s Yeezy product line reportedly represents between 4-10% of Adidas’ sales, bringing in over US$2 billion a year. On Kanye’s side, losing the Adidas partnership means he’s no longer a billionaire, with the partnership accounting for $1.5 billion of his net worth, Forbes reports.
In short: Kanye’s been cancelled before, but never like this.
Kanye’s anti-Semitic bent is but the latest string in what feels like an endless cavalcade of controversies the rapper has found himself embroiled in over the last 12 months (or realistically, over the last two decades). You could spend thousands of words detailing every dumb thing he’s said recently, but it’s his anti-Semitism that’s more relevant here – especially as it’s the most heinous thing he’s ever done as well as what has clearly been a tipping point for both brands and fans alike.
Since October 7th, Kanye has accused fellow rapper Diddy of being controlled by Jews, Tweeted that he’s “going death con 3 on Jewish people” and shared anti-Semitic conspiracy theories with right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson. These comments have seen him kicked off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and have emboldened neo-Nazis to protest in public.
These comments are totally reprehensible and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Adidas, GAP et al did the right thing by cutting ties with Kanye. But we can’t help but think that the loss of all these partnerships might actually be the best thing possible for Kanye’s career.
On a pragmatic level (or if we’re being generous), being released from the Adidas partnership will potentially give Kanye more freedom to express and produce his aesthetic vision. There’s no doubt that Adidas was the biggest beneficiary out of the partnership: Kanye gave them credibility, exclusivity and inspiration. One only has to look at some of the chunky Adidas sneakers that have been coming out recently to see that Kanye’s aesthetic has more than just trickled down to Adidas’ mainline products.
Adidas was also getting the lion’s share of profit from Yeezy sales, and there’s an argument to be made about how the relationship was exploitative, like so many brand partnerships with athletes or creatives are (especially and traditionally those with African-Americans).
Conversely, losing Adidas as well as alienating the fashion industry could be the wake-up call Kanye needs for him to change his ways, which will ultimately benefit his career (and image, and life). Optimistically, this is the hammer blow that’ll finally take Kanye down – and I say this as a fan.
I’ve been a dedicated Kanye fan for years, and like many of his fans, I’ve defended him during his endless bad takes and harmful decisions. But as the descendant of Holocaust victims, this is where I draw the line – and I’m not alone.
As I see it, the ‘bargain’ Kanye fans have made with themselves and others for years is that Kanye’s uncomfortable public persona can be ignored or justified as long as his music was good. And it’s true: Kanye is an amazing artist; easily one of the most influential musicians of the 21st century if not of all time.
The same goes for his clothes. We were happy buying Yeezys and went mad for Balenciaga almost in spite of the negative Kanye connotation because they were the thing to wear. Kanye’s influence on modern fashion rivals his influence on modern music. He is a tastemaker like no other.
But the reality is that his last three albums have all been rather average. His messy personal life and preoccupation with his own image has come at the expense of his art. We’ll always have his old albums (the refrain “we miss the old Kanye” is almost as tired as Kanye’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories) but listening to them lately has felt hollow; felt wrong.
Similarly, his latest exploits in fashion – namely, his Yeezy Season 9 fashion show where he debuted multiple items of clothing with the ‘White Lives Matter’ slogan plastered all over them – are also on the nose. He’s not upholding his side of the ‘bargain’.
That’s before we even consider how disgusting his anti-Semitism is, or how appalling his harassment of people like Vogue editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson or ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s (now ex) boyfriend Pete Davidson was, or how his boosting of Donald Trump and ultra-conservative political causes has been…
All of these things combined mean that even his most ardent supporters are starting to abandon him.
In that sense, I hope that the end of the Adidas partnership – as well as his other fashion partnerships, and the fashion world turning their back on him – will be a wake-up call for Kanye. Kanye has long seemed to prize his perception and status in the fashion world over his status as a musician; it’s what he really cares about.
Maybe losing his seat at the table will change his behaviour… It could also make him go further down this destructive, unhealthy rabbit hole he’s found himself in. The man has well-documented mental health issues, but they also can’t be an excuse for bad behaviour.
At this stage, it feels foolish to expect any sort of comeuppance, repentance or change from Kanye. Famously ego-centric and erratic even when not suffering from a bipolar or psychotic episode, he’s never been one to apologise or back down.
But what I hope as a fan – as someone who’s had so many of my life’s formative moments shaped by his genuinely incredible music – is that he gets totally torn down. Destroyed. Taken back to square one.
Maybe then we’ll see him change his tune, make some better music, and be a better human.