If I were a true Kardashian fan, I’d have found out Kylie Jenner was getting her own spin-off sooner than the day the thing aired. I would have watched it Sunday night instead of Monday and I’d have provided you with more than a lukewarm Tuesday take. But here I am, and let it be known: I think Life of Kylie is genius.
Most people disagree:
In a Complex post titled “‘Life of Kylie’ Might Be the Fakest Show in the Kardashian Empire,” Mariah Smith writes: “What’s nice about Kylie’s original Keeping Up With the Kardashian’s home and their other spin-offs, is that the bread and butter there is actually touching on tabloid stories, or real events happening in their lives.” Although audiences are forced to “endure contrived story lines” and pranks, Smith concedes, there are tragically real stories underneath. “But, with Kylie leading the charge, and starting the series with a storyline so contrived and formulaic, we may come out of this show knowing less about her than we did before.”
Sadie Gennis of TV Guide has a different take: “Looking back at 10 years of Kardashians, my favorite moments have nothing to do with the serious soap opera-worthy drama. It’s not the breakups or the fights. It’s the wacky shenanigans… And though there are produced attempts at silly shenanigans [in Life of Kylie] that are the Kardashians’ bread and butter… they’re all tainted by the bleakness of her reality: Kylie Jenner is trapped in the lifestyle of an A-list celebrity and she has no way out.”
Their diametrically-opposed definitions of the Kardashians’ “bread and butter” tickled me. I’m personally with Smith — the all-but-scripted “pranks” that have come to define the Kardashians’ reality shows are what always turned me off of them. What’s the point? But where I disagree is that Life of Kylie doesn’t churn out any of the real shit. The show is straight-up harrowing, and I learned so much about Kylie – the most fascinating Kardashian/Jenner, if you ask me — over the course of the two-episode premiere.
“What do you say to people who say you have a perfect life?” an off-camera voice asks Kylie, kicking off the eight-episode series.
“Laugh in their face,” she responds. The low-key poets who edit this show were thus satisfied. Her answer didn’t quite make sense, but told a story nonetheless – a concession the show makes over and over, to poetic ends.
“I don’t need makeup,” Kylie says at one point, after describing makeup as her only passion in life. “A lot of the time I’m not wearing makeup but…[pregnant pause]…no, I need makeup.” And then a second later: “This is like therapy. I should go to therapy!”
Is this not next-level insightful? I’m not being facetious.
Later, an off-camera voice asks her, “Do you want kids?”
“I do want kids. Who doesn’t want kids?” she answers, betraying her insular worldview. Then she orders her assistant to take care of her barking dogs. The camera lingers on her face, her lips move around in an unnatural, unsettling way. The point is perfectly unwritten.
There are plenty of what Gennis deems “shenanigans,” including Kylie finally getting the chance to go to prom, as if her life hasn’t essentially been a 19-year-long prom. The opportunity presents itself in the form of a charity case: some “outcast” kid who doesn’t have a date — a thought that pains Kylie so acutely she mimics a stabbing motion. There’s a figurative knife in her heart. “I have a soft spot for the outcast because…I was the outcast I guess in a lot of ways… and I still feel like an outcast, in different ways now, because I can’t relate to a lot of people so it’s like, in this little world I do feel like an outcast,” she says, using the expressions “outcast” and “lonely at the top” interchangeably.
She may be the opposite of cast-out by the world, but her evident loneliness cannot be underestimated, nor can the disillusioning effects of her fame. It’s communicated through her tone (flat) and expressions (blank) more than her own words. But her self-awareness, which delicately waxes and largely wanes, does occasionally deliver:
“I can’t say that was a very normal prom experience,” she says, following the total shit show charade of a prom. “But I can say that I’ve checked that off my bucket list. That I’ve been to prom.” She smiles demurely/dead-ly, and I do a stabbing motion in my own heart.
I respect that she doesn’t shy away from the topic of her own anxiety. She’s confused, sad and ill-equipped to handle her situation and she knows it. She’s still a teenager, after all, and the experiences shaping her personality are incredibly niche.
“My dad always told me you gotta be nice to everybody,” she says at one point, no trace of emotion on her face, “because you never know who…[pregnant pause]…that’s not how he said it. I dunno.” She’s been saying things like this into cameras for years. Wisdom never quite surfaces in the satisfying way you want it to. But why should it? We still watch anyway.
Her struggle with fame, which has clearly been the main focus of her life since she was nine and first appeared on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, may not be relatable, but she navigates it like any teen would: waywardly.
“It’s hard to do normal things when every single person knows who you are,” she says. (That sounds impossible.) But also, she has to post on social media “to stay relevant” — but she “hates attention” and “isn’t like that.” At one point: “I just don’t know who I’m doing it for.” Another time: “I want to feel normal. That’s my goal in life.” By the end of the premiere, she’s on a beach with her best friend, Jordyn, saying she doesn’t feel cut out for this world, that she’s getting “that feeling” again, that she wants to run away.
She’s constantly changing her mind. She’s lost. Who wouldn’t be? She may not be adept at communicating the nuance of what she’s going through, but she doesn’t really need to. It’s poignant anyway. Maybe some people wish she said more (Complex) or did more (TV Guide) in Life of Kylie, but when have Keeping Up With the Kardashians and its myriad spin-offs ever really been about that? They’re too edited to convey anything real on purpose. They’ve always been a shrouded meditation on fame, and Life of Kylie does that better than all of them.
Gifs via Giphy.