As we all know, Kanye West is having a big week on Twitter, having spent much of Wednesday tweeting about his admiration of President Trump and showing off his signed MAGA hat. On Thursday, West followed up on his previous posts by tweeting some screenshots of a text conversation with fellow musician John Legend.
Say what you will about the actual content of the exchange, it also offers a fascinating glimpse into the digital habits of the rich and famous. It’s pretty weird how much we can learn about people from context clues hidden in their screenshots! Here are several takeaways.
The conversation used to be on iMessage, but switched to SMS. Members of the jury, draw your attention to the blue bubble at the top of the first screenshot, aka the last text exchanged between West and Legend before today. We don’t know when it was sent, but at that time, both men had iPhones, because bubbles only show up blue when all parties are on iMessage. Now, though, either West is roaming or Legend got a new, non-iOS phone. The latter seems likely, because Legend has some kind of business relationship with the Google phone, having shot his most recent video with a Pixel 2. (Legend’s wife, mega-tweeter Chrissy Teigen, later joked that the whole thing was an elaborate ad.)
Could the lack of iMessage compatibility have exacerbated the tension between Legend and West? Stranger things have happened: We know West to be the particular sort, and people really do seem to hate those green bubbles.
West is posting from an iPhone, and it’s relatively well-charged. West is a great admirer of Apple—some of his other recent tweets refer positively to both current CEO Tim Cook and late founder Steve Jobs—and he’s clearly still an iPhone guy. If the running-out-of-battery screenshot is the province of the person who can’t get his or her shit together, West’s nearly fully charged iPhone might bolster the case that he’s more in control than we think.
John Legend is in Kanye’s phone as JL, but Legend also identifies himself at the beginning of his text. Does Kanye call Legend JL? Is JL a cool nickname that only VIPs use for Legend? Does Kanye use initials as some kind of security policy in case his phone gets stolen, so the thief can’t tell who all the people in it are? (Unlikely, KKW would be a dead giveaway.) [Update, April 27, 2018: Further investigation has revealed that if you have your iPhone set to “show contact photos” but you do not have a photo for said contact, the contact’s initials will appear at the top of the text exchange instead. So Kanye probably has John Legend saved in his phone as John Legend. We still don’t know why John Legend calls himself JL.] Legend identifying himself at the beginning of the text also indicates that the two haven’t texted lately or maybe just that celebrities have to constantly change their phone numbers, just like Beyoncé has to constantly change her email address, and thus don’t expect anyone to know who they are over text. Are some celebrities so famous that they don’t text that much at all? Or are some so insulated that they don’t know you don’t have to start every text by IDing yourself?
Both of them text in relatively formal, complete sentences. Capital letters at the beginning of sentences and everything. Is this because this is a Very Serious Matter? Because phones capitalize stuff for us? Are they both just into proper grammar regardless of medium? Kanye’s Twitter suggests otherwise.
Celebrities don’t necessarily like when their private digital ephemera is revealed. Chrissy Teigen certainly seemed a little annoyed by it, at least initially. (Sorry, Chrissy, I know you said to stop writing about your tweets, but you’re just really good at Twitter.) From Legend’s perspective, he was trying to reach out to a friend privately, and then that friend put him on blast. But maybe it shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise: Revealing receipts is a common trick in the Kardashian playbook—and after all, West is married to the woman who pioneered this tactic when she “exposed” tape of a phone call between the rapper and Taylor Swift two years ago. So maybe in this age of hacks and leaks, we all need to start communicating like any of our messages could be revealed at any moment. By this measure, Legend comes off well in the screenshots: thoughtful, respectful, and caring, as opposed to West, whose response accuses Legend of using “fear” to “manipulate” him.
Celebrities are self-promotional masterminds. In the second screenshot West posted of his exchange with Legend, Legend responded generously and without animus to Kanye’s harsh words … and indicated that he knew his message would make it to Twitter.
So he plugged his new single. The one whose video was shot on a Pixel 2. It all comes full-circle.