(March 20, 2024).  Some people are calling Kanye West’s recent return to the top of the charts a “comeback,” noting the artist’s near cancellation and self-imposed hiatus after making antisemitic remarks that all but doomed him the past couple of years (he later apologized for that, in Hebrew no less).

But given his No. 1 song’s TikTok virility and a number of other factors surrounding his return to the top, it’s easy to wonder whether Kanye is truly experiencing a career renaissance or if he’s simply captured lightning in a bottle.  

To be fair, the controversial rapper is having a good 2024 so far.  His album Vultures 1 with Ty Dolla $ign debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 and spent two weeks there (a rare feat for Kanye’s No. 1 LPs).  It is still in the top ten, thanks mostly to streaming and the success of one breakout single.  

That song, “Carnival” featuring Rich the Kid and Playboi Carti, just spent a week at No. 1 on the Hot 100 (this week it falls to No. 4), which made it Ye’s first No. 1 single in 13 years… since he was featured on Katy Perry’s “E.T. (Extraterrestrial)” in 2011.

And “Carnival” has made it despite some of its questionable content, like shout-outs to fellow social outcasts Bill Cosby, Puff Daddy (now Diddy), Chris Brown and R. Kelly (all of whom have been accused or convicted of some kind of assault in the past two decades), plus its obligatory jab at Ye’s longtime nemesis Taylor Swift.

It’s somewhat telling that Ye name-drops so many celebrities in his lines (he also mentions Elon Musk) while his collaborators do none of that.  It’s a preoccupation that has seemingly dogged the “Jesus Walks” rapper for years (btw, he mentions Jesus in the song as well).

This is not to say “Carnival” doesn’t have its appeal.

First and foremost is the very catchy chorus, with its anthemic “Go! Go! Go! Go!” chant that will certainly be filling college sports arenas in the decades to come (but likely sans the ensuing lines: “head so good she a honor roll, she ride the dick like a carnival…”).

Even the song’s many hedonistic references to sex acts, materialism, and personal gratification are said to be an ironic commentary on the pitfalls of such indulgences (although those negative consequences aren’t explicitly stated… perhaps that’s where Ye’s nods to the four aforementioned embattled Black entertainers come in).

The Hot 100 crowning of “Carnival” in particular is impressive and must feel like a victory to the newly empowered Kanye who, upon learning of his No. 1 feat, went on an immediate F-bomb attack against those he felt had slighted him in years past, like fellow rapper Drake (with whom he’s had a longstanding on-and-off-and-on-again beef) and the employees at Adidas (who famously dropped him after his antisemitic remarks, and which he has accused of stealing his ideas), among others.

Ye’s “win” further lies in the fact that the song initially took a backseat to Beyoncé’s much ballyhooed country hit, “Texas Hold Em,” which debuted the same week as “Carnival” (and Vultures 1) and rose to No. 1 for two weeks while keeping Kanye and others at bay.

Then, in week four of its release, the quartet of Ye, Ty, Rich the Kid and Playboi Carti made the unusual climb to the top — unusual in that, with rare exception, many hip-hop records either debut at No. 1 or they don’t get there at all.

There’s also a bit of irony to Ye displacing Beyoncé’s hit from No. 1 given that the rapper was unable to clear a sample of Donna Summer’s iconic 1977 smash “I Feel Love” for a now-deleted track from his album, after Queen Bey successfully cleared a sample of the same classic for her 2022 Renaissancealbum.

Ye must also feel vindicated that “Carnival” itself initially sampled Ozzy Osbourne’s “Iron Man” (with Black Sabbath) but, after Osbourne’s refusal to clear it, was shrewdly replaced with a sample of an earlier Kanye song (“Hell of a Life”), which itself contained a legally cleared sample of “Iron Man.” (The jury is still out on whether Osbourne, who has writer credits on Ye’s “Hell of a Life” by virtue of the earlier sample, has any legal standing.)

But despite — and maybe because of — much of the above, the sustained success of “Carnival” can be attributed to one major factor: it went viral with young people.

More specifically, that “Go! Go! Go! Go!” intro and chorus caught the ears of young TikTok content creators everywhere who used it to soundtrack everything from unique dance moves to mini-skits miming the lyrics to pose-striking selfies (see link immediately below).


As of this writing, the hashtag #carnival was tagged to 509K posts accounting for more than 7.5B views on TikTok.  And while some of those videos are linked to more traditional “carnival” posts of the amusement park or cruise ship variety, many of them are associated with Kanye’s & Ty’s No. 1 single.  

Of note, “Carnival” sits atop the Billboard TikTok Top 50 for the second straight week, making it only the second single to simultaneously rank No. 1 on both the six-month-old TikTok chart and the Hot 100 (after Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” in December).

The TikTok chart uses a totally separate formula from the Hot 100 and is based on total video creations (featuring a song’s official audio track), plus video views and likes/comments on the platform.  While none of those factors are used in calculating the Hot 100, a song’s popularity on TikTok can lead to more downloads and streams, which are counted in determining the big chart.

The Hot 100 is based on streams, downloads and radio play.  And with “Carnival” getting negligible airplay and very little sales/downloads — about 97% of its chart points were due to streaming — it’s safe to say that the song’s sustained success is due mostly to the streaming that followed its exposure as a viral TikTok hit.

Another indication that “Carnival” or, more accurately, Vultures 1 is a one-trick pony is the fact that, when the album debuted in February, all sixteen (at the time) of its tracks entered the Hot 100, most likely due to curiosity. Just four weeks later, only three remain: “Carnival” plus “Burn” (the album’s best track btw) at No. 91 and “Fuk Sumn” at No. 100.

Thirteen years of frustration — with the last couple of years being especially challenging for the superstar rapper — apparently reached a boiling point for the 46-year-old who, in addition to the F-bombs he posted to social media, also claimed responsibility for creating every genre of music for the past 20 years, something rapper Boosie Badazz, for one, elected to challenge.

But there are a few Ye milestones that are indisputable. For instance, he is now the oldest MC to ever achieve a No. 1 Hot 100 single.

He’s also the rapper with the longest span of No. 1 hits (20 years and one month), dating to his first topper as a featured guest on Twista’s “Slow Jamz” in February 2004, and the only rapper to have No. 1 songs in three distinct decades: the ‘00s, ‘10s and now ‘20s. 

Those are all remarkable feats and Kanye and his collaborators certainly deserve credit for coming up with a song that has tapped into the consciousness — or, more accurately, the feeding frenzy that a user-generated TikTok video can become — with “Carnival.”

But it appears that once the “Carnival” TikTok trend dies down, there’s not much else that’ll sustain Vultures 1, and we’ll be looking to the second and third Vultures installments to see if Ye really is experiencing a “comeback” (he arguably never really went anywhere in the first place), or if this latest ride ends after the roundabout stops.  


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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2 thoughts on ““Carnival” is Kanye West’s viral moment; but don’t confuse that with a comeback”
  1. “Don’t call it a comeback” He’s smart but not genius. This feels to me that he’s addressing being black listed by the industry. He almost had us with the Yezus church revivals lol.

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