A Profile Written Through Tweets

File this under: Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Yesterday Slate published a pretty fab profile of manic, press-averse rap star Kanye West. Rather than deal with the rapper’s PR people, any limitations on face time, or fussy diva demands, writer Jonah Weiner—in what is truly a stroke of genius—relied almost entirely on West’s infamously outlandish Tweets, Twitpics, blog entries—and the occasional old clip—for his primary material. The result is as good as any pop profile we’ve read recently.

Weiner explains his approach at the top of the piece, suggesting Kanye’s flight to Twitter and away from the traditional press can be used to the advantage of a pioneering young profiler. The way he sees it, through Twitter…

…West has agreed to speak candidly to me on a wide variety of subjects, to run his mouth but remain pithy at the same time, and to grant me virtually round-the-clock access to his life—no publicist popping his head in and telling me there’s five minutes left. As conditions go for writing a profile, these are extremely favorable. No, I don’t get to ask any questions, but I do get a constantly updating record of West’s thoughts, whereabouts, cravings, jokes, meals, flirtations, bon mots, and on and on. In the face of a mountainous info dump like West’s, isn’t the basic work of profiling—building from the raw material of everything someone says and does toward a more focused sense of who they are—as relevant as ever?

He synthesizes the rapper’s Tweets masterfully, compounding them into conversations, and linking out to the raw Tweets he quotes at every point West “says” anything.

At his apartment today, West says he’s “working on being a doper person,” but he seems to be feeling pretty dope as it is. “This is gonna be a dope ass day,” he says. “Life is awesome,” he says. “I love me,” he says.

It’s novel sure, but it is also more than just a journalism prank. Weiner manages to craft some rather textured scenes, writing as if he is hanging with Kanye and not with his Mac and leading expertly into the kinds of skewering observations we saw recently in Lynn Hirschberg’s takedown of M.I.A.

It’s similarly unclear, three days later at his apartment, whether he regrets buying the fur pillows, which cost him god knows how much, or if he regards their impracticality as central to their appeal. Uncomfortable fur pillows represent the kind of problem a plebe would kill to have, after all, and in West’s acquisition value-system, form left function lying bruised, beaten, and bloody on the mat long ago. At one point West tells me, apropos of nothing, “I jog in Lanvin.”

Weiner even uses other Twitter accounts to get other celebs on the record on what they think of Kanye. Take this response to West’s interrupting country star Taylor Swift at last year’s MTV Video Music awards. It too came to Weiner through Twitter.

“Fuck you Kanye, it’s like you stepped on a kitten,” Katy Perry said, neatly encapsulating the majority response.

Of course, the piece works so well because Kanye’s Twitter feed is a trough full of nuttiness; the satirical profiler is spoiled for choice. Just now I checked his page and the most recent Tweet reads thusly:

On set of the movie… this doe just refuses to sit still… I told the deer… “what would Bambi do?” & she looked at me like I was crazy

Can’t blame her.

Weiner’s approach could potentially work for Twitter-addicted, guard-dropping celebrities and public figures everywhere. And I can imagine a slew of copycat writers coming out with their own Britney and Bieber profiles this week.

The implications could be interesting. If celebrities like Kanye West know that they can be profiled in such a way, with so much on the record comment, and without having participating at all, will they be more willing to grant interviews so as to control the message better? Will they be less fussy, less demanding, more willing to answer questions and expound on aspects of their life for which they might normally reserve a “no comment”? Will the press wrest back a little of the power from the cover girl?

Meh. Doubt it. But this sure is a fun read.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.