The year 2012 was cosmically important for Kim Kardashian: It’s when two of the most significant relationships in the starlet’s life began. That was the year she and rapper Kanye West became a couple, and it’s also when she began posting on a little photo-sharing app called Instagram.
Last Friday, Kardashian reportedly filed for divorce, marking the end of her and West as an official unit. Her Instagram, where she has more than 200 million followers, will live on. Though she has dabbled in other apps, including her own, over the years, it seems uncontroversial to say that Instagram is Kardashian’s primary platform, and that will only be more true as her reality show ends its run this year. And it’s strange to think that up till now, her account and her relationship with West have overlapped so completely—there was never a Kimye that didn’t exist on Kim’s Instagram, and Kim’s Instagram has never existed independently of Kimye. At present, there are 5,424 posts on Kim’s page that chronicle the entire span of her and West’s relationship (the 5,425th, posted this morning, heralds in the post-Kimye era), meaning that one-half of the couple’s telling of their story is just sitting there waiting to be discovered by anyone who cares to scroll all the way back to the beginning of her grid. Well, I have done this, and I have some findings.
I expect that we all have, on occasion, after hearing about a normal-person breakup, gone to one or both parties’ social media accounts to do a little sleuthing—when did it happen, and were there clues that we missed? But to do this sort of amateur detective work on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram page is a task of entirely another scale. Even the most post-happy people I know in real life haven’t posted anywhere near 5,000 times. Remember the Library of Congress’ plan to archive every single public tweet? It abandoned that project, I have to imagine because that was entirely too many posts for any person or team of people to ever sift through, and that’s kind of how I feel, staring down Kim’s 5,424.
Anyway, here I go. Did Kim post fewer photos of Kanye in 2020, as the pair’s marital problems apparently mounted? Was she less effusive? Was he grumpier? Were the signs all there? Apart from the appearance that COVID seems to have barely impacted Kim, Kanye, and the extended Kardashian clan’s lives throughout the pandemic, which we already knew, a thorough read of the last year of Kim’s posts proves inconclusive. There have been small-ish recent tells that haven’t escaped the internet’s notice, like the Dec. 22 post in which Kim wasn’t wearing a wedding ring:
There was also the Jan. 8 post wherein the ring was still missing in action, which ended up mysteriously disappearing from her feed. The most recent reference to Kanye seems to be a later January post in which Kim is wearing Yeezys, Kanye’s line of sneakers, which sources say should be interpreted as a sign of détente between the two. The most recent actual photo or mention of Kanye, however, was on Nov. 22, when Kim posted a photo and caption congratulating him on the 10th anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, one of his most acclaimed albums:
She also included photos of a note Kanye sent her that later became the inspiration for some song lyrics on the album, before the two ever became a couple. Sweet. Later in the holiday season, Kanye did not appear in any photos posted from Christmas or a trip to Tahoe around the same time. (Though we are focusing on her grid here, fans and professional Kardashian watchers are also attempting to read the tea leaves in her Instagram Stories, the first place she supposedly “broke her social media silence.”)
But those are just the past few months—have there been signs this was coming for longer than that? Signs that might be visible on Instagram, I mean, rather than reports about family strife over Kanye’s presidential run and more specifically a speech he gave where he told a personal story about a time he and his wife considered abortion. It’s hard to say. June, certainly, was a bonanza of tributes to him and their marriage: She posted one for Father’s Day and one for Kanye’s birthday (“Happy Birthday to my King”) and another for the couple’s sixth wedding anniversary:
Truth be told, one reason it’s kind of hard to say definitively that Kanye has or hasn’t receded on Kim’s Instagram is that Kim never really posted all that many photos of Kanye to begin with. An early one came in May 2012, only a few months after Kim’s very first Instagram post, when she put up a picture of herself, her future husband, her brother Rob, and a lavender-haired Kelly Osbourne drinking out of a watermelon:
Kim and Kanye are two people who would eventually, respectively, rent out a private island for a milestone birthday during a pandemic and buy a hologram and bring it to that island, so: humble beginnings. But that sipping a watermelon is a far cry from transforming your house into an opulent “full spiderweb experience” for pandemic Halloween says more about Kim’s trajectory from reality star to billionaire (maybe?) A-lister than it says about her relationship with Kanye, though the two are not wholly unrelated. If anything, that watermelon picture is one of dozens of cute posts over the years that made it look like she and Kanye genuinely cared for each other—her feed is awash with photos of them captioned with single heart emojis (to signify true love), ones where she calls him her boo and bae and #MCM (man crush Monday), and there is also ample evidence to be found that he couldn’t keep his hands off her famously ample butt:
Before the carousel feature existed, Kim would post five lovey-dovey pics of them to the timeline in a row without shame. Her posts lately had been more business: Throughout 2020, she’s been promoting a “Mrs. West” line of makeup inspired by her 2014 wedding—in Kardashianland, decoupling what’s business and what’s personal can be near impossible. But as recently as January 2020, she posted gushing over a custom-designed necklace that sold their love as full-throatedly as ever. Did things degenerate that quickly that a year later she’d be preparing for divorce? Or did Kimye just have the sad 2020 that a lot of us did underneath all the artifice, except with island vacations and six-figure holograms of departed loved ones in the backdrop?
What I finally realized is that Kanye was never the central draw here. Kim’s Instagram is and always has been mainly a repository of photos of Kim. This is a reflection of what may be the fundamental conflict of Kim’s persona: She’s by all appearances a very sweet, family-oriented wife and mother, but she also has never denied that she seems to live to take and post photos of herself looking hot—and this more than anything else has always been the main project of her Instagram account. Yes, there’s been a dramatic uptick in posts shilling for her beauty line, her line of shapewear, and her line of fragrances, but blessedly, many of these promotional posts also contain imagery of Kim, so they fit in just fine. And maybe that’s where I went wrong, scrolling through those 5,000 posts expecting to see the love story of Kim and Kanye unfold before my eyes. Perhaps the lesson of the sizable Instagram presence Kim maintained throughout her relationship with Kanye says more about her refusal to be subsumed into Kimye, despite all the hype. Marriages end, but your brand is forever.