Kim Kardashian and Kanye West: The complicated legacy of the 'First Couple of the selfie generation'

As they prepare to divorce, we ponder how Kimye’s marriage will leave its mark on even the most fickle fame landscape

FILE - Kanye West, left, and Kim Kardashian attend the WSJ. Magazine Innovator Awards on Nov. 6, 2019, in New York. Kim Kardashian West filed for divorce Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, from Kanye West after 6 1/2 years of marriage. Sources familiar with the filing but not authorized to speak publicly confirmed that Kardashian filed for divorce in Los Angeles Superior Court. The filing was not immediately available. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
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"A historic blizzard of celebrity" is how The New York Times famously referred to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's 2014 Italian wedding. And when you consider the celebrity couples whose mythology has endured long after not only their marriages, but also their lives, have ended, it's the fascination with who they were and what they brought to the union that separates the ones we remember from the ones no one writes books about.

Glamour, sophistication, money, fame, talent and breeding are all aspects that have traditionally fed into successful marriage mythology.

But what if you were to also add a dollop of unabashed love of money, a teaspoon of sell-your-own-grandmother-for-fame, then sprinkle in a dash of modern fairy tale, before marinating in millions of social media followers and a 24-hour news cycle?

Then you'd have the recipe for the Kim-Kanye West marriage. A union that, despite having ended after six years as husband and wife, will impact how celebrities position themselves in the brand-marriage job market these days.

Here are four ways in which Kimye’s marriage has changed fame culture …

1. The unabashed pursuit and appreciation of fame

This might come as a surprise, but while there have always been those who would do anything for fame, it wasn’t until the Kardashians went hell for leather in their quest for global celebrity in full view of their own 24/7 camera crew, that it was seen as a legitimate path to success. Prior to that, the idea of pursuing fame for fame’s sake was considered, well, a little tacky.

Sure, Paris Hilton had done the whole "famous for being famous" thing in The Simple Life, but she was already born on third base thanks to that surname of hers.

When they met, Kardashian was already firmly ensconced in the "fame at all costs" lifestyle, but let us not forget, so too was West, whose "I am the greatest" declarations and stage-bombing of Taylor Swift showed him to be just as hungry as Kardashian.

Together, they melded West's old-school way of getting famous (possessing talent) with her modern approach (a willingness to do anything) and created a brand that was unapologetic in its thirst for more.

2. Pride in the side hustle

For the uninitiated, a side hustle is a money-making project that is separate from your day job. Best perfected by Gen Z, whose introduction into an oversaturated job market resulted in the "do anything" gig economy, the side hustle can be, for some, the difference between this month's rent and next month's eviction.

Prior to Kardashian and West, the Hollywood side hustle was Tinseltown’s dirty little secret. Why else do you think the A-list snuck off to Asia to make bank on their big-money adverts? The idea was that if you were discovered to have a side hustle, then it might be construed as your main gig not being very successful. Which, in a town as terrified of failure as Hollywood is, would smack of (whisper it) career death.

With their Yeezys and Skims, Kardashian and West didn't invent the concept of the family brand – after all, the Kennedys sold power and glamour just as hard as Brand Beckham sold his and hers fragrances – but they did completely destigmatise it by thumbing their noses at Hollywood and its snobby, unwritten rules about staying in your lane.

3. Perpetuating the (modern) fairy tale

Ever since Cinderella cast off her rags, slid her foot into the glass slipper and married her prince, the idea of the makeover has been fully ingrained in the concept of celebrity. After all, Hollywood thrives on tales of young ingenues being plucked from Nowheresville, America, and set on their path to the Oscars.

Since Keeping Up With the Kardashians premiered in October 2007, Kardashian's long slog from Hilton's sidekick to uber-influential multi-millionaire had always lacked one thing: cool.

Enter West and his Italy weddings and Givenchy wedding dresses. Not to mention his ability to call Anna Wintour and land the April 2014 Vogue cover, an image that led Time magazine to say what we were all thinking: "Yes, that's actually Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue."

With West very much in prince mode, Kardashian's transition from reality shows to social media princess didn't come about from a discarded Louboutin on the steps of the Met Gala ball, but rather in season seven of KUWTK when West brought along his personal stylist to gut her wardrobe in a makeover that would have an enduring legacy.

For not only did he make over Kardashian that day, but later down the line, he would be responsible for the entire family, including matriarch Kris Jenner and the couple’s four children, all but abandoning the concept of colour in their wardrobes, as West created his own family of wickedly neutrally attired stepsisters.

4. Fuelling the 'opposites attract' narrative

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London, Britain, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo/File Photo
As with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West showed that polar opposites make for headline-grabbing marriages. Reuters

If John F Kennedy Jr had wed a similarly silver-spoon-fed trust fund baby with a surname, would we have been as in thrall to the enduring modern-day Cinderella story that his PR director wife Carolyn Bessette brought to the New York fairy tale romance?

Consider how dull history would have been had King Edward VIII married a nice, homely countess instead of the scandalously twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Or if Prince Harry had settled down with Cressida Bonas rather than Meghan Markle.

What Kardashian, the face of being famous for being famous, and West, the award-winning rapper and lyricist, gave us, students of celebrity culture should note, was another opportunity to remind ourselves that fame, celebrity, life, is a million dollars more interesting when opposites attract.

"Get thee a good husband, and use him as he uses thee," Shakespeare wrote in All's Well That Ends Well.

He could have been writing the book of a modern money-making celebrity marriage.