When Kanye West first paired up with Kim Kardashian, the gossip world seemed both confused and horrified. How could one of the kings of modern rap music ‘lower himself’ to dating a reality TV star, some seemed to say? The implication from many was that the romance was a publicity stunt or, at the very least, a moment of savvy PR from the Kardashian-Jenner camp. And then they got married and had four children. The Kimye marriage became one of immense cultural and commercial clout. As Kim Kardashian West, she became a legitimate business force, welcomed by the same high fashion circles that had once derided her as a flash in the pan. She infamously allowed West to rummage through her wardrobe and throw out everything he deemed unsuitable sartorial options for his other half, and she later adopted a more minimalist style that fits more with the Vogue crowd than E! She also became his biggest public defender, most notably against Taylor Swift, as well as his most photographed model of the Yeezy line. While West never fully adopted the image of a family man or wife guy, he always seemed at his most appealing when he was smiling with his kids or stepping to the side on the red carpet to give Kim the spotlight.
Their split wasn’t inevitable exactly. Nobody ever expects celebrity romances to last, and the Wests were together for nine years, which is pretty respectable by Hollywood standards. Still, the news that the pair had separated, which leaked quietly and has remained pretty low-key until its inevitable episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, didn’t feel like much of a surprise. West has struggled publicly with mental illness and his reputation has taken a nosedive thanks to his support of Donald Trump and cycle of pig-headed political rants that were all too often heralded as some sign of artistic genius. Don’t expect much in terms of a high-profile public blowout over the divorce proceedings, however. Kardashians don’t play that dirty unless they want to, or there’s a well-paid camera crew recording it all. Not to sound too cynical here — divorce sucks and I truly feel for the West kids, all of whom are until eight years old — but it’s also true that celebrities don’t play by the same rules as regular people. The New York Times once referred to their marriage as ‘a historic blizzard of celebrity’ and there’s not much to be gained by a full-on marital deathmatch. West will probably write a few songs about it and a source who definitely isn’t Kris Jenner may respond in a controlled but knowing manner, but that’s all. They’ve already agreed to joint custody of the kids and neither has asked for spousal support.
Rumors have swirled that both Kardashian and West have found new romances. Kardashian was vaguely connected to political commentator Van Jones for a hot minute. West, however, seems to have rebounded with a literal supermodel, Irina Shayk. The depressingly reliable folks at TMZ are claiming that the pair are ‘100 percent romantically together’, and they were seen together in the French region of Provence on West’s 44th birthday this Tuesday, with images via the Daily Mail confirming this.
oh my god https://t.co/kvGbqOGWCW— hunter harris (@hunteryharris) June 9, 2021
This wouldn’t be the first high-profile relationship for Shayk, a Russian model who has appeared in campaigns for the likes of Versace, Burberry, and L’Oreal. She dated footballer Cristiano Ronaldo for six years, then spent four years with actor Bradley Cooper, with whom she had a daughter named Lea. It also wouldn’t be her first encounter with West. She can briefly be seen in the video for his song ‘Power.’ So, the idea of them dating isn’t exactly as out of the blue as it would first seem, although it is still unexpected.
To put it bluntly, dating Kanye West seems like it would be an extremely time-consuming and emotionally intensive commitment for any woman to make, one that a successful model with her own name brand recognition and young kid probably could do without. To be romantically associated with West in any way is to be thrust into the spotlight as The Other Half. Even before Kardashian, West made his partners part of his image, such as his photoshoots and red carpet posing with Amber Rose. He’s a showman, always has been, although it’s not exactly as aspirational as it once was. In Kardashian, he found a savvy and malleable collaborator, which was one of the reasons that Kimye as a phenomenon has been practically inescapable for close to a decade. Shayk may be a solid partner for this reason. Who better for a man with a burgeoning fashion empire to maintain a creator-muse relationship with than a supermodel who looks good in absolutely everything?
What Shayk seems especially adept at is discretion. She’s dated two very famous men, both of whom came with different kinds of baggage. She was a plus one for both men to major events in their fields, often at times when the men were the center of their respective industries’ attention. She always looks gorgeous and refined and helps to fill out the image of the power couple on display. Crucially, Shayk also doesn’t blab. You won’t find her giving snarky interviews about the perils of dating Ronaldo, even though I’m sure she has plenty of stories to tell. The same goes for Cooper, a man prized for his strident and occasionally humorless control of his own celebrity narrative. She’ll do the cheesy totally-not-staged paparazzi shots but she won’t blab about their private life in a glowing profile.
Shayk knows how to be the consummate celebrity girlfriend. That sounds mean and reductive, I know, but it’s not an easy gig. Even though she is very famous and beloved in her field, Shayk is not the same kind of (in)famous as West, and she was never on equal footing with Ronaldo or Cooper either. And being a celebrity girlfriend/wife is tough, way harder than it is for the guy, even if both parties are familiar faces. Nobody ever expected West to dress up for Kardashian, for example. Nobody ever called him her muse. There’s a sense of duty attached to the woman that the man never has to deal with, or when he does, he’s lavished with far more praise. In that smothering context, Shayk already knows the rules of the game. They’re sh*t rules, of course, and it almost always backfires for the woman. Look at how Kim Kardashian spent years being accused of ‘ruining’ West and his music. We’re already seeing some claim that West dating Shayk is a ‘return to the days of Yeezy’, which is supremely gross. Being in the orbit of Kanye will present a whole heap of baggage that no woman could prepare for, not really. Here’s hoping Shayk keeps a steady grip of the situation.
Header Image Source: Gilbert Carrasquillo // GC Images via Getty Images