Whether you love him or hate him, one thing is clear: everyone has an opinion on Kanye West. Some hail him as a genius of our times, while others think he’s a pompous idiot with nothing much to say. He is a very polarizing man, and someone like that is bound to court controversy for the duration of their career.
Having been in the spotlight for a long time, then, it’s no wonder that Kanye is getting a reputation for breaking the internet. Together with wife Kim, he’s locked in a never-ending battle of who can break it fastest and most shockingly. The pair seem to have very little limits on what they are prepared to share with the world, and their joint empire is still steadily growing.
Kanye’s time as an internet breaker dates back way before he met Kim, however, and there’s plenty of examples of him doing so even before we knew the phrase. In fact, one could call him a pioneer of internet breakage, doing so even when the internet was still in its fledgling days and you were as likely to hear of his exploits on MySpace as Facebook. Let’s go back before Twitter, before YouTube, to a time when Kanye West first learned how to break the internet – and begin a journey back to the present day.
The first time Kanye really shocked the world, it set a precedent that he was set to repeat over and over. It was back in 2004 at the American Music Awards that we first got a taste of what was to come. He lost out on the Best New Artist award to Gretchen Wilson, and he was not what you would call a good sport about it. In fact, he showed himself to be a seriously sore loser, storming out of the auditorium in a rage as she was presented with the award. He later said, "I felt like I was definitely robbed [...] I was the best new artist this year." That was enough to make his first serious headlines.
His first really huge controversy came when he decided to pick a fight with George Bush, the then-President, in 2005. It was at a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims that Kanye was supposed to read from a script alongside Mike Myers. He deviated off-script to express his feelings about the way black minorities had suffered in the wake of the disaster. Although Myers continued to read the script, Kanye waited for his next turn to speak and then said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people.” Bush was predictably displeased, and described it as one of the most “disgusting moments” of his time in office.
Having already made headlines once for making a reaction at an awards ceremony, Kanye decided to do it again. At the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, Kanye strode onto the stage and interrupted proceedings as Justice and Simian were presented the Best Video award for "We Are Your Friends." He argued that he ought to have won the award instead, for his nominated "Touch the Sky." This was only a shadow of what was to come, but the worldwide criticism of the moment served as incredibly good publicity. Further encouraged, Kanye was only more determined to go ahead and break the internet again in the future.
This might have been one of the weirdest moments of his career, and while there were controversies before, it’s arguably the defining point where he slipped into the crazy side of the spectrum. After the death of his mother, Kanye released his next album, 808s and Heartbreak. The sound was very different to previous albums, featuring a heavy use of autotune and introspective themes. It certainly wasn’t what anyone was expecting, and when he previewed the lead single at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, the internet exploded with reactions – both negative and positive. The lasting effect on the hip-hop industry has been a significant one, with many other artists taking his lead.
This was the archetypal "break the internet" moment for Kanye, with the video clip shooting around the world in the aftermath of his outburst at the 2009 MTV Music Awards. When Taylor Swift was awarded Best Video, he leapt onto the stage to snatch the microphone and proclaim that Beyonce should have won. The reason? That her video for ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ was “one of the best videos of all time”. Within days, the internet was flooded with the “I’mma let you finish but….” meme, immortalising him for all time as what President Obama described as “a jackass.”
At last, something positive! Kanye next broke the internet with an initiative that actually promised to do good. He decided that as part of the launch of his new record label, he would start GOOD Fridays. Every Friday, he would release a new song on the internet – totally for free. Some of the songs were later included on his next album, but the promotion ran for a decent amount of time, from August 20 to December 17 of 2010. Especially with the first announcement of the free tracks, his website endured huge amounts of hits as fans scrambled to get their downloads.
Yet again, Kanye sought to eschew the most commercial sounds and aimed to create an album that was out of the ordinary. He achieved it with 2013’s Yeezus, an abrasive experimental work which divided opinions. Critics almost universally raved about it, while public views were not so complimentary. It debuted at number one and birthed an unusual tour with Kendrick Lamar which was equally ambitious and risky. The two events went hand-in-hand to make him one of the biggest phenomenons of the year, and what happened as the months went on only strengthened that position in the public eye.
When Kim Kardashian fell pregnant, all eyes were on the couple (primarily for some rather bizarre fashion choices that she made with her growing bump). Months of speculation finally came to an end when the couple revealed what they had chosen to call their daughter: North West. Cue a collective eye roll that was felt around the world, and plenty of memes and Facebook jokes doing the rounds too – and you would be hard pressed to avoid any mention of the news. With the choice of a name that was guaranteed to generate publicity, Kim and Kanye broke the internet together for the first time.
Kim and Kanye finally made it official in 2014, in a private ceremony which nevertheless managed to attract a lot of mainstream coverage. The speculation about the dress, the location, and the guests gave way to a media frenzy as the event itself arrived. From that point onwards it was a mad dash to find photographs from the wedding and any possible details that could emerge. It was later featured in a special edition of Keeping up With the Kardashians, although the ceremony itself was not shown in the programme. Still, the couple have managed to make a habit of breaking the internet with some big news at least once a year.
With North West already in the world, it was clear that everyone was going to be waiting with bated breath to hear the name chosen for Kim and Kanye’s second child. Speculation was rampant from the moment that the pregnancy was announced, and only increased as the due date approached. Was it going to be South West? How about a tribute to one of their parents? A ‘K’ to make it part of the Kardashian clan? When the finally announced that the new baby was to be called Saint, very few people could have predicted the choice – which still managed to be controversial enough in itself.
The world was shocked once again when Yeezy made a characteristic announcement in 2015. He was being presented with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Music Awards when, finally given the chance to make a speech on his own behalf, he spouted some choice quotes. "Y'all might be thinking right now, 'I wonder did he smoke something before he came out here?' And the answer is: 'Yes, I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off'”, he proudly stated, letting us all know that he was well and truly high. He went on to announce that, "I have decided in 2020 to run for president."
Breaking the internet isn’t always something that you do with controversy. You can also do it by creating a highly desirable product, limiting the release to a small number, and then asking customers to order it exclusively online. That’s exactly what Kanye did when he teamed up with Adidas to release the Yeezy Boosts. Just 9,000 pairs were made available in New York City via the Adidas app. They sold out within 10 minutes, even despite having such a selective criteria for buyers. This only resulted in a higher demand for the Boosts when they were available on more general sale.
Kanye made several forays into the world of fashion, the earliest of which were largely unsuccessful, and he has become a real fixture on the ‘frow’ (the front row, normally reserved for special guests only). After a few unremarkable fashion collections, he brought Yeezy Season 2 to the world in late 2015, at New York Fashion Week. Finally, this one really caught the eye of the media, but not in a good way. The collection was met with widespread derision, both for the simplicity of the looks – often skin toned and tight materials with very little embellishment – and the price tags attached to them. Again, the internet was flooded with memes and visual jokes based on the collection.
The internet was well and truly broken when Kanye dropped the video for ‘Famous’, featuring a shocking image of several well-known celebrities in bed with Kanye and Kim. They included Donald Trump, George Bush, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Taylor Swift, amongst others – all people that Kanye has at one time or another made a controversial statement about. His message was that he had contributed to making all of these people famous – and Swift in particular objected to the use of her name and image in the song. It’s probably the fact that he called her a name that added insult to injury.
Finally, the internet broke once again when Kanye got into a Twitter feud with ex-girlfriend Amber Rose. The pair had dated before he met Kim, and before she met husband Wiz Khalifa, and were spotted out and about at plenty of red carpet events together. When Kanye apparently mentioned their daughter in a way that Amber disagreed with, she took to the social network to let everyone know about his particular habits in the bedroom. Within minutes the Tweet had been shared around the world and saved for posterity, revealing once and for all what he likes to get up to in private.