The Ye/thics of Ye/sthetics

Kanye West

I recently participated in a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of business executives.  One of the participants suggested that my efforts to infuse aesthetics in businesses may simply be a form of propaganda. He had a point.

Whereas propaganda manipulates public opinion through false or misleading information, aesthetics could be construed as luring consumers to buy a brand’s products and services by creating desirable images and other sensorial cues.  The operative word here is image.  Aesthetics, as I define it, goes well beyond image.  In its purest form, it’s an expression of values.

We’ve all known individuals who appear attractive at first glance, but whose attractiveness quickly dissipates once they’re seen as mean, offensive or dishonest.  The same goes for companies.

I’ve written extensively in the past about the dangers of using aesthetics for ill gain. The graveyard is full of companies that have amassed fortunes that way. However, I cannot think of a single company that has sustained its success on the backs of bad or deceptive behavior.

And that why I believe Kanye West’s brand Ye is dead.

Starting with the launch of his Air Yeezys in 2009 (Nike’s first-ever shoe deal with a non-athlete), Kanye has done collaborations with a host of a-list brands, including Louis Vuitton,  Giuseppe ZanottiI, and even Fendi. In 2021, he signed a lucrative 10-year deal with GAP. But, his most notable deal, by far, was with Adidas.  In fact, many viewed Adidas Yeezy as one of the most influential sneaker brands in the world.

All that came crashing down in recent days, after Kanye spewed out a series of antisemitic and racist tirades. How can I be so sure that his aesthetic influence and historic appeal cannot overcome the backlash? Because they’ve been exposed as corrosive and destructive. They have no place in our closets, on our feet or in our ear buds.

When I make the case for aesthetics, I don’t focus on conventional standards of beauty, but on something far more serious. I focus on qualities we admire — ones that inspire us and lift our spirit.  True aesthetics provides purposeful pleasure.  Does pleasure have any purpose if it isn’t grounded in goodness?

Aesthetics is more than a public relations strategy.  It underpins everything that a brand and its creator stand for.  Kanye showed us what he stands for.  Clearly, the fashion industry will not stand for that.  Will the music industry do the same?

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