NewsThe Colorful World of Pablo: Inside Kanye West's Bid for Global Merch Domination
Today we sent photographers from around the world to six of Kanye West's 21 Pablo pop-up shops.
On "Saint Pablo," the closing track of his most recent album, The Life of Pablo, Kanye West raps, "I know I am the most influential." While that might seem like the most Kanye West thing Kanye West has ever said, know that today kids lined up outside pop-up stores around the world, from Los Angeles to Cape Town and beyond, just to buy his $55 T-shirts. We sent photographers to six of West's 21—21!—pop-up shops across the globe (New York, Los Angeles, London, Cape Town, Miami, and West's hometown Chicago) to document the scene at each, both inside and out.
All year we've been updating you on what we've dubbed The Great Merch Wars of 2016. From Rihanna to Bieber to YG, conceptual, designed-out promo gear felt like a prerequisite to dropping an album. It became a no-brainer once artists realized they could capitalize on the public's apparent willingness to buy $60 tees that were printed on $3 blanks so long as the graphics were cool (and on-trend) enough.
Profit margin judgments aside, things heated up a couple weeks ago when Drake launched a pop-up shop in New York City to promote his Summer Sixteen Tour. But despite being without a doubt the most popular rapper alive, Drake's efforts now look minuscule at best and amateur at worst in comparison to West's cluster bomb of graphic-heavy gear.
Not only did each city get its own IRL location, but its own custom designs ("New York" printed on New York merch, etc.) and unique color schemes. (Which, yikes, was probably a total logistical nightmare for Bravado, the company responsible for producing Pablo's world-famous gear.) In doing such, Kanye West gave new life to Cali Thornhill Dewitt's signature graphic font, basically guaranteeing it will continue to be one of 2016's most recognizable symbols of style.
Why do people wear merch? On some level it's likely a matter of individual expression. But band tees have always been about feeling united in one's allegiance with other people to a particular artist. For his fans, that "cool kids club" feeling is especially important at a time when proclaiming one's love for Kanye West is more polarizing than ever.
Therein lies the magic of merch: Putting on a tee and "feeling like Pablo" means not caring if someone in your city is a die hard Taylor Swift fan or if they "miss the old Kanye." But feeling like Pablo is one thing. If you were Kanye West today, you'd probably think you were pretty damn influential, too.
Kanye West's "Temporary Stores" will be open through Sunday, August 21st. For store hours and locations visit kanyewest.com/temporarystores.