Highsnobiety / Thomas Welch

Since the initial shock of Kanye West’s recent and very public flirtation with the porn industry has mellowed, it’s seemingly back to business as usual. The world has now come to terms with this series of events, which began with a few comments on Jimmy Kimmel Live! before culminating in Kanye co-creative directing the inaugural Pornhub Awards while dropping new merch highlighting the nights’ winners. Alongside “Kanye being Kanye” justifications, reactions ranged from puzzled curiosity to natural acceptance.

In fact, West’s foray into porn isn’t actually that weird. There’s a long history of how and why pornography has infiltrated the mainstream and continues to do so more with each passing year. It’s a phenomenon known as “pornographication” or “pornification,” and it’s been discussed in numerous books and academic articles in an attempt to better understand it.

Of course the entertainment industry and particularly rap music is well known for its sexualized depictions of women and raunchiness. Every year the bar seems to get lowered for what is acceptable and Kanye is no exception. The producer/rapper/designer has shown his interest in sexualized imagery since he came on the scene, with numerous instances mirroring the progression of pornification.

Let’s take a look at these key moments throughout Mr. West’s career, which have undoubtedly led him up to this point.

Erotic & Softcore Photography

Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'

Although sexually charged photos are de rigueur across all facets of fashion, music and film, we sometimes take for granted that it’s not how things always were. With every new provocation and ensuing outrage that occurs, the line is pushed slightly, allowing for the normalization of similar examples in the future and making way for a more hardcore approach down the line.

Kanye’s work is no exception. The 2009 Louis Vuitton campaign for his sneaker collaboration with the French fashion house featured his then-girlfriend Amber Rose, reclining naked on a couch, head in his lap. It’s a stunning photo, owing its debt to Miss Rose’s equally stunning derrière. And while it doesn’t evoke pornography specifically, it’s a nod to the elegant erotic photography of the past.

Only a year later Kanye’s highly controversial cover for his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album was released – a crude George Condo painting of West and an armless phoenix presumably in mid-coitus. Its explicit nature was challenged equally by its darkness; a fitting image for the album’s title and thematic content. Later in 2013, Kanye elaborated on that cover’s softcore imagery when he and Kim, pre-engagement, posed for the cover of L’Officiel Hommes. Shot by Nick Knight, it features the couple in a suggestively coital position.

This transition from sexualized images to softcore porn doesn’t quite cross the threshold of what we consider pornography to be today, but it’s certainly broken down the barriers in between.

Dirty Talk

Lewd verses in rap are a dime a dozen, but Kanye is particularly prone to dishing salacious lines. Distinguishing beyond simple innuendo, Ye’s lyrics are so explicit and direct there’s no mistaking their intention. With too many examples to list, the rapper’s lyrical porn covers so many varied sexual exploits it reads like categories on Pornhub, including but not limited to: blow jobs (“Monster”), cunnilingus (“I’m Into It”), woman on top (“Drunk In Love” Remix), facials (“The Joy”), sex toys (“Don’t Like”), fisting (“I’m In It”), anal sex (“Hell of a Life”), threesomes (“I Am A God”), gang banging (“Hell of a Life”) and analingus (“I’m In It”).

Suffice it to say, Kanye’s been telling us about his love of sex and smut for a long time directly through his music.

Sex(y) Tapes

Kanye’s music video repertoire is wide and varied, ranging from big spectacles to home videos and everything in between. Considering his racy lyrical content, it’s actually surprising his videos aren’t more sexually explicit than they are. What is for certain is that he prides himself as an artist, continually pushing himself in new ways, some of which are more successful than others.

One such early masterpiece is “Flashing Lights,” which is coincidentally his first collaboration with Spike Jonze, who executive produced the “I Love It” video that premiered at the Pornhub Awards. “Flashing Lights” isn’t so much pornographic as it is cinematic and sexy AF. It’s of note because besides being in the upper echelon of Ye’s music videos, it confirms his appreciation of the perfect female form – a trait that’s played a part all through his career.

Much later on in 2013, the video for “Bound 2” was released, to the surprise of many. “WTF?” was most people’s reaction to the Nick Knight-directed video, which starred Kanye and Kim enacting similar poses that they’d already adopted for Knight’s L’Officiel Hommes cover from earlier that same year. It wasn’t overly explicit, but it did include a topless Kim straddling Ye on a motorbike with a few rocky speed bumps thrown in for good measure. If the still photograph of this trio’s work was suggestive, this was bordering on TMI.

Fast forward to 2016 and the back-to-back release of the “Famous” and “Fade” videos – two wildly different styles that share pornography in common. “Famous” is the more controversial video, depicting 12 celebrities (as life-size wax dolls) including West, Kardashian, and everyone from Taylor Swift to Donald Trump, sharing a bed while sleeping naked. Suggestive of a post-orgy scenario, the gritty camcorder-style footage is reminiscent of amateur porn. The sculptures and arrangement of the celebrities are based on Vincent Desiderio’s painting Sleep, rendering the project part music video, part art installation. A point made further when the statues were exhibited in a gallery.

“Fade” on the other hand is flashy in comparison, featuring a toned and taut Teyana Taylor dancing and gyrating in a gym wearing almost nothing. There’s a feeling of vintage ‘80s porn to the set, while the video does eventually veer into softcore scenes of Taylor and her real-life husband, NBA player Iman Shumpert, getting it on in the showers. Both borrow strongly from porn visuals, with “Fade” the deepest dive Kanye had taken up to that point into actually depicting a sex scene.

Industry Moves

Famed and equally controversial author Bret Easton Ellis recently revealed on his podcast that Kanye and him have worked together on a number of ideas over the years, most of which has never seen the light of day. One of these projects was a series of pornographic videos that Ye had wanted to release alongside tracks from The Life of Pablo. The collaboration is not altogether unsurprising considering Ellis has frequently written about sex in very graphic detail – the equivalent of literary porn in some respects.

He was also behind The Canyons, an erotic thriller starring Lindsay Lohan and former golden boy porn star James Deen, who has since been shunned due to numerous sexual assault allegations. An Ellis and West porn collaboration would surely be something for the headlines, but sadly we can only wonder how it would have turned out.

Then last month the Kanye x Pornhub news began to unfold. From humble beginnings on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Ye explained he still watches the porn-streaming platform despite previously expressing how having a daughter has changed his opinion of women. This prompted Pornhub to publicly thank West and gift him a lifetime membership. In what felt like a whirlwind week, it was then rumored that the multi-hyphenate would creative direct the inaugural Pornhub Awards, which of course turned out to be true.

The evening’s events proved truly bizarre with the show allegedly riddled with technical and organizational problems. Ye himself was only present at the beginning, first offering a strange Burt Reynolds-esque porn producer impression while a staged photoshoot took place (all models outfitted in YEEZY, no less), followed by a performance with Teyana Taylor, and finally the debut of his “I Love It” video with Lil Pump.

He was also responsible for the design of the evening’s awards—each uniquely shaped like alien sex toys—as well as merchandise honoring category winners, appearing as a natural extension of his YEEZY empire. While the execution of the whole affair had much to be desired, all in all it was an interesting and unprecedented project.

Judging from Ye’s very public immersion into the world of porn in the last month, on top of a career’s worth of dabbling on the edges of the industry, culminating to this point, it’s perhaps only a matter of time until we see actual Yeezy-approved smut. The connections are in place and it’s clear his fans are open and willing for a new such venture. With West always on the cutting edge of culture, the full pornification of society never looked so close.

Words by Marta Sundac
Contributor
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