I had never flown on a private jet until 24 hours ago. People wait on you. They serve you drinks. They hold umbrellas for you while you wait for the plane in the rain. The seats are more comfortable than your couch at home. You think about the leather seats a lot. You'll finish your drink and the flight attendant will automatically bring you another one. You'll flex on Instagram. You'll put your feet on the empty chair in front of you. You’ll feel cool.
It sounds stupid, but now I understand why rich people do this. Being rich feels awesome, and Kanye West is a rich person.
This is not a grand or enlightening statement. He is an extremely wealthy artist who is married to one of (or, maybe, the) most famous person in the world, Kim Kardashian, who is also a rich person. The best way to describe this is to remind you that two of them live in concrete mansion with their children, aptly named Saint, North, and Chicago. It’s impossible to grasp what their day-to-day life is like, unless they literally pay for you to do it.
And that’s how I ended up on a private jet less than 24 hours ago. For a moment, I lived the Rich Person Existence—as did the rest of the media that was flown out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to listen to West’s new album ye as he debuted it to the world. Considering the extremely complicated last few months and the statements that West has made about Donald Trump, I was curious what this event would be like. What would he say? How would he act? Would the album answer the questions he’s raised with his behavior?
Upon arrival, West brought us to a ranch north of town called Diamond Cross. On the scenic drive alongside snowcapped mountains, our driver, named Justin, pointed out some wild buffalo in the distance. Justin wore wrap around shades and spoke with an accent, using the word “y’all” on a few different occasions. Steely Dan played on the radio. Someone jokingly asked if there was a rap radio station we could listen to. “I don’t think so,” Justin said, chuckling. We were, after all, in Wyoming.
Upon arrival to the ranch, we were handed frozen drinks. I looked at the mountain range in the distance for about five minutes. Horses ran by. The flowers were wild and yellow. I thought about my parents. I thought about Neil Young. I heard people talk about how the air is God’s air. This is what happens when you take a bunch of New Yorkers out of the city. They start commenting on the way that air smells.
More people showed up, dressed not for Wyoming but like how you dress for a listening party for Kanye West. I heard mentions of $700 shoes. There was a man wearing a leather cape. Another in a leather cap. There was a calm serenity about the venue and its red barn. I thought about West looking at a mountain and saying to himself, “I want to make a song that sounds like that.” Inside, barbecue was served. I took joy in watching the man in a leather cape eat sloppy food with his fingers.
Everything about the event felt surreal. Celebrities, we say, they’re just like us. That’s false. Unless you get to be rich for free for a day, like I was. But being surrounded by celebrities in a ranch made for family reunions stripped away the countless celebrities’ overwhelming star power, and it really did feel like they were just like us. Upon West’s arrival, someone brought the rapper a plate of ribs that he ate while smiling at a standup table. Kim Kardashian casually talked to Kid Cudi (and when I snapped a photo, she looked right at me and I felt very weird). I witnessed a lengthy conversation between Jonah Hill and Chris Rock in which I saw Jonah Hill laugh a lot. Nas smoked a cigar the entire time. YesJulz bounced around the room and then, later, the campfire. Lil Yachty smiled for many photographs. Right wing darling Candace Owens apparently was in attendance, although I didn’t see her. And at the end of the night, 2 Chainz flexed on me by joking that I was short, and then budged in the bathroom line. I cannot say for certain that he washed his hands. I imagine he did, because he is 2 Chainz.
The weirdest moment of the already weird night came at the start of the livestream. A booming voice powered over the loudspeaker and directed us to the large campfire outside. I made my way and ended up standing near the monitors for the livestream. Then Mike Dean appeared next to me, and Chris Rock was talking to my left. Rock made a joke about how he didn’t want Pusha-T to diss him, and then got a bit more serious. “Hip-hop is the first artform created by free black men,” Rock said to the crowd. “And no black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West.” He delivered the last line with a smile, looking in my direction, and I turned and found West directly to my right. West was also smiling. In a world in which West became the MAGA Hatter just over a month ago, stating slavery is a choice and spouting nonsense about free thought, it was difficult to see if this was a joke or a critique. Maybe, in true Chris Rock fashion, it was both.
Then West moved in front of me, with Kim behind him. It was the first time I’d got a solid look at his shirt—a neon green long sleeve sprayed with the words “LOVE EVERYBODY” across it. I looked at the camera directly in front of me, behind West, and it was in this moment that I realized I was standing directly in front of Kanye West as he’d debut his album. Holy shit, I thought, we would debut this album together.
The music began, opening the seven-track album with a song about contemplating suicide, and West rapped the lyrics in my face. I didn’t know what to do. My relationship with West and his music has been challenged by this press cycle, but in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel swept up by his presence. Here we were, standing in a field in the middle of Wyoming, the Grand Tetons in the distance, and one of the most influential musicians in the world looked at me as he brought the world inside of his mind. I thought about how West has always said to not smile in photographs because you’ll look cooler. So I didn’t smile. I closed my eyes, hoping that didn’t look too uncool. I felt the breath of hypebeasts pushing behind me. I gripped my beer. The last thing I wanted to do was spill beer on West’s neon green shirt on a livestream with the world watching.
Celebrity is powerful and confusing. These people aren’t our friends, far from it, and yet there’s a bizarre, desperate desire we have to make them feel that way. Especially in 2018, when their lives are at our fingertips. Is it weird that I didn’t feel anything when I saw Kim Kardashian sitting next to 2 Chainz eating barbecue at a picnic table? I guess not. I mean, I see them both everyday when I like their Instagram photos.
How do we process art that’s made by an artist so completely out of touch of the everyday existence of what it’s like to be alive in 2018? We listen, I suppose. And that’s what West wanted us to do—in the creative space he used to make it, even if that required flying a few hundred people halfway across the country. Maybe at its core, that was the point of this listening. West brought us all out into his world, and for a day, we lived like he lives every day. In those kind of moments, it is very easy to be blinded by the glitz and glamour of the fact that you’re standing within arm’s reach of Kanye West. And maybe I was! After all, I was brought to fucking Wyoming on a fucking private jet. “After all this,” one person said on my bus following the party, “we gonna have to say the album is fire.” The absurd extravagance of this experience is something to reckon with, but West’s goal, it seemed, was to provide a listening experience through the lens of how he made his art: staring at big mountains and breathing God’s air. What remains to be seen is if this tactic will be enough for fans and listeners to forget that less than two months ago West was donning a MAGA hat and cozying up to the alt-right.
This morning, Pusha T told me in the airport that he’s super proud of ye. “This is what we’re trying to do,” he said in reference to the album. “This is what G.O.O.D. Music is.” It’s the kind of line that doesn’t really say much. As the president of G.O.O.D. Music, these are things that he should say. Like a true politician, he asked me my thoughts. I told him I was still processing it.
Then I got on my private jet. Today, there’s catering.
Follow Eric Sundermann on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.