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Kim Kardashian West and the Butt That Launched a Thousand (Sponsor)ships

We spent an afternoon on a press junket with the woman who's reportedly paid millions to front a single campaign.
The crowd vying for Kim's attention. Photo: Hayley Phelan

The crowd vying for Kim's attention. Photo: Hayley Phelan

“We have a very special guest here today,” said iHeart Radio’s Trey Morgan to a sea of screaming fans gathered on Broadway in downtown Nashville on Tuesday. “And I bet you know who she is.” The crowd shrieked even louder.

Behind Morgan, a petite woman with slicked-back dark hair, clad in nude latex, could be glimpsed amid a swarm of cameras and reporters. And of course, she needed no introduction: Kim Kardashian West was the reason myself and a dozen other journalists were flown by private jet from New York to Nashville that day and why some 5,000 people — many of whom had travelled over 100 miles — were currently losing their minds in the streets.

“We drove three hours just to see Kim,” said Taylor, 21. She was dressed in a crop top and pencil skirt that expertly channelled her idol. “We’re, like, the biggest fans in the world.”

“I quit my job to come here,” said Howard, 22, who was waiting with a group of friends that calls themselves the "Kim K. Crew." "I was supposed to get off at 4 p.m. but I walked out at 2 p.m. and said, 'Kim Kardashian's gonna be here and I gotta go.'"

“Without Kim Kardashian,” Howard continued, “there would be no life.”

“What I love about Kim — besides the fact that she’s just, like, a total fashion icon and the most fashionable person on the plane — is that she’s so genuine,” said Kaley, 18. “She just seems so real.” It was a sentiment echoed over and over by her fans: what they loved most about her was how “kind,” “real” and “genuine” Kardashian is.

“She doesn’t care what people think, and that’s why I look up to her,” said Taylor.

While press and fans had come to see Kardashian, Kardashian had come for Hype, an energy drink she is the “global ambassador” of. She would spend all of two hours in Nashville, most of that time behind closed doors. "I wish I could spend more time here," she said to the crowd in a painful-sounding whisper. "But I have a cold, so I need to get home." That was more or less all that Kardashian — who asked press to refer to her only as Mrs. West and to refrain from asking questions about Caitlyn Jenner or her pregnancy — would say to the crowd that day. She circled the stage twice and obliged a handful of lucky fans with a few selfies. Despite being promised “ample time” to interview her, each journalist had a hurried few minutes with her along a crammed press line.

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The butt that launched a thousand (sponsor)ships.

The butt that launched a thousand (sponsor)ships.

The best tidbits I got from her were that her Met Gala dress caught fire because she was standing near candles, that "everything makes [her] sick" during this pregnancy and that she doesn’t like the term "belfie." She also revealed that she struggles with body insecurities, and that while she’ll wear double Spanx to look good for the cameras, "I’ll get home and unbutton my pants, and be normal just like anyone else."

Jo Piazza, who wrote the book "Celebrity Inc: How Famous People Make Money," estimates that Kardashian would have been paid $2 million to sign on as Hype’s spokesperson, a contract that would likely include such an appearance (as well as social media mentions and a campaign). Celebrity endorsements like these are nothing new — Kardashian has already endorsed dozens of companies — but in the wake of Tuesday’s less-than-satisfying event, I had to wonder: Is paying a celebrity like Kardashian such an exorbitant amount of money really worth it?

Undoubtedly it was her name that attracted fans and press, who would otherwise have little interest in attending an energy drink launch event.

"I probably wouldn’t have come if [Kim] wasn’t going to be here," said Alex, 18. "I had never even heard of Hype before." What did she think of the drink? "It’s okay." Would she attend Hype’s next event? "If Kim’s there, yeah."

“I came to see Kim but we missed her,” said Tracey, 23. When I asked about Hype, Tracey and her friend Veronica, 31, look puzzled. “Oh you mean this?” said Veronica, brandishing a Hype can. “It’s not bad.”

Did the event make them like Hype more as a brand? “No,” said Veronica. “It just got me to come to the event more.”

20 minutes after Kardashian has departed, the street is almost deserted while Craig David performs.

20 minutes after Kardashian has departed, the street is almost deserted while Craig David performs.

The two women were now part of a crowd of only about 50. Because once Kardashian departed a funny thing happened: So did everyone else.