A white rental van pulled up into the parking lot at First Street and Adams, and a guy cleared the crowd to make way for it. "It's them! They are here." As the two tech guys were setting up the speakers and projector, someone else screamed, "Hey, where's Kanye? Is he still in the van?" There were something like 150 people at the 11 p.m. projection of Kanye West's "New Slaves" -- not counting all the Comicon attendees across the street, who saw it without expecting to. It was 91 degrees.
There were three projections in Phoenix scheduled at different times, but the 9 p.m. projection was a no-show, according to attendee Josh Peterson.
At that showing, there were simply cars playing loud music with a crowd gathered around them, and random people yelling "Kanye?"
Apparently that wasn't the only showing that failed to deliver -- Peterson had missed a few more of them. "Tucson was a no-show -- we drove for two hours. We also went to Chase Field and were told that the location was changed to here, and we barely made it on time." His friend Dale Dunham said, "I think it got shut down like the Houston situation."
There was also a 9:30 p.m. showing, and local rapper Will Neibergall -- a.k.a. Glasspopcorn -- was there. He said of the event: "I got really hyped -- not on the video, but on the fact that so many people still want art to be advertised and sold to them."
At the 11 p.m. showing, technical difficulties abounded. The video started playing before the sound was in sync, and then when they did sync up, there was a display about adjusting the projector lens covering Kanye's face as he mouthed the beginning to "New Slaves."
At one point, a speaker gave out, and the crowd booed the tech guys, who ran over and promptly fixed the speaker. Kanye's stoic face consumed the large brick wall behind Hanny's at 1st st and Adams for three minutes. The crowd chanted the chorus together, and almost aptly, when Kanye was rapping about "The Blood on the Leaves," the logo displayed on the brick wall from Hanny's made his eyes blood-orange.
It all happened very quickly -- the van showed up, set up in a couple minutes, played the video, closed up its doors, and went off. The crowd requested an encore, but there was no response. In many ways, these projections are less about engaging the musical curiosity of the audience and more about viral marketing -- something Kanye has taken full advantage of.
This is not to say that the song isn't incredible -- because it is. The lyrics to "New Slaves" are especially relevant in Arizona, where the CCA, who he references in the track, is known for trying to lock people up for profit and "[making] new slaves."
Once the projection got going, people were relishing the moment -- and I say this semi-ironically, because if you glanced at the crowd, you'd see that almost every hand was holding up a phone, trying to capture the moment as it was happening.
There's something you miss from looking into your phone and recording a video or taking photos, rather than experiencing it first-hand, without a screen standing in front of the experience. Did people even watch it? Was that the point? Or was the point just to brag about being there? "Hey, look at my picture of Kanye!"
As soon as the projection was over, people lingered, unsure of what to do next. Responses were positive, even though most people had already seen the projection on YouTube. Matthias James said it wasn't very different from his experience of watching the video online, except this projection brought people downtown, instead of simply in front of their computers. After it ended, Amadour Tribe said, "I thought it was amazing. Yeezy changes the game yet again." Other people in the crowd were seen taking selfies with Kanye's projected face. The video ended with the words "YEEZUS," and "JUNE EIGHTEEN."
This event says more about the marketing strategies behind record labels than the music being promoted. Kanye West has succeeded here, but is it possible for other artists to pull such large crowds nationally, or is merely Kanye that has this type of draw? Will this open a new path for artists to reach their audiences? Are impromptu hologram performances announced via Twitter at secret locations the new future of album promotion?
Okay, sure -- that's a bit of a ridiculous suggestion. But it's not so far-fetched compared to what record executives probably suggest in meetings. This was clearly more about getting people to tweet, like, pin, Vine, Instagram, and Tumblr about Kanye than it was engaging people with a song. And it worked! That's all everyone worried about during the three-minute-long projection.
As soon as the video ended, the phones went down, and people grumbled about it being over. I was left wondering whether most people even saw it, or if they would see it for the first time later in their cars on their phones, when they posted their photos or videos onto their social networks.