As the decade began, there were reasons to be optimistic: America had elected its first black president, and despite a global recession just two years earlier, the world hadn’t cascaded into total financial collapse. Obamacare, for all its flaws, was passed, and then came the Iran deal and the Paris climate accords. Sure, there were danger signs: the anger of the tea party, the slow hollowing out of legacy news media, a troubling sense that somehow the bankers got away with it. But then maybe the immediacy of social media gave some hope, at least if you listened to the chatter of the bright young kids in the Bay Area trying to build a new kind of unmediated citizenship. Maybe everyday celebrity, post-gatekeeper, would change the world for the better. Some of that happened. But we also ended up with the alt-right and Donald Trump, inequality, impeachment, and debilitating FOMO. How did we get here? Throughout this week, we will be publishing long talks with six people who helped shape the decade — and were shaped by it — to hear what they’ve learned. Read them all here.
Exactly one month after Keeping Up With the Kardashians wrapped its first season on E!, Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses. Both would become juggernauts, setting the tone for much of the coming decade. Kim Kardashian West, the show’s star, not only understood the changes that were just beginning to disrupt much of the culture; she herself demonstrably shifted it, changing the way we understand fame and even the internet. And by filtering her own very particular reality through technology, she utterly changed not just the beauty business but also our idea of what a mogul is. Meanwhile, the Kardashian-Jenners presented a fascinating version of the modern blended American family, one that has started conversations about everything from trans rights to mental health to addiction and cultural appropriation at what seemed like every dinner table in America for the past ten years.
When I visited her at the minimalist palace she shares with her husband, Kanye West, and their four children in the gated community of Hidden Hills in Calabasas, there was a small army of men out front wrapping thousands of tiny white lights around trees lining the driveway. Inside the front door, I took off my shoes and padded along the endless hallway to the kitchen, where I found Kardashian West, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, seated in the breakfast nook and drinking a glass mug of milky coffee. The island in the kitchen was resplendent with still-hanging-on floral arrangements sent for her birthday, October 21.
Did you just turn 40?
Not yet. I was born in 1980, so my decades are always so easy for me.
I never look at it politically. I don’t look at it like, “The Obama years are the 2010s.”
I just recently got into politics, and I wouldn’t even say I’m into politics but just really aware of politics. For some reason, at the end of this decade, it’s such a hot topic — I think in the pop-culture realm too. With Obama, our first black president, that was the first time that I voted. That was such an exciting time, so different. To me, though, my decade is mapped out by my TV show: What was I doing seasons one to five, five to ten?
How did your 30s begin?
I remember exactly where I was. I was in New York City filming Kourtney and Kim Take New York. I was single. We were going to go to Vegas to celebrate my 30th birthday. My sisters saved up and got me these silver crystal-spike Louboutins that I dreamed of and would never have spent that much money on. And I wore this strapless silver dress, with long hair, and we partied and did a nightclub in Vegas.
Another way that I measure my time line, which is really ridiculous to a lot of people, but it’s my reality, is my glam periods. In the beginning of the decade, I was always wearing Louboutin heels. It was always about big, wavy hair, parted down the middle. We were doing everything as sisters at that point. The trio of Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe. Always leopard dresses and skintight Hervé Léger, shopping at Intermix. And then I began kind of elevating from that. I didn’t know who Carine Roitfeld was. I didn’t know any of that until I’d say, like, 2012, 2013, when I met Kanye. Well, not met, but really connected with him romantically.
Your first perfume came out in 2010. When did you realize that you had become big business? That you were a mogul?
I will say about fragrance: that was always my mom’s and my No. 1 goal. We had dreamed of fragrance since the day we ever dreamed of anything. Elizabeth Taylor. You’ve made it.
Was there a moment when you realized that your endorsement was a powerful thing?
Yeah. Um. My mom might know if you want me to call her just to get you a really specific thing. Don’t write, like, ‘She had to call her mom.’ I mean … You could, it’s funny, but —
It is funny.
[Calls Kris Jenner] Hey, I’m sitting here in an interview, and the question that he’s asking me is “Was there a specific moment when I realized that I was worthy of an endorsement?” Like, it would blow up if I said I liked it. Kind of like when Kylie said, “Snapchat sucks.” And then it tanked. I would honestly maybe say Dubai at the milkshake thing … Yeah. Yeah. Okay … I mean, I’ll put it on speaker, but …
Kris Jenner: I remember it like it was yesterday. We were at the Super Bowl in Miami in 2010. And we had to go somewhere, and we couldn’t leave the space without literally 12 GI Joe guys, and they all were armed with rifles. Then we went to the field and it was the craziest thing. We saw huge stars all around us, and nobody needed the kind of security we did. And that’s when we knew that our lives had really changed.
Kim Kardashian West: I’m going to tell him about Dubai because that’s what came to mind for me.
KK: Okay, bye.
So I’d say 2010, 2011 was like, “I’ll do anything.” Cupcakes, milkshakes. So I go to a milkshake place in Dubai, thinking, Oh, it’s just, you know, some little milkshake store. Maybe like 250,000 people showed up to the Dubai mall. I had never seen anything like it before. We had to sneak out the back. I mean, I took videos of the thousands, hundreds of thousands of people at the mall in Dubai. My mom and I looked at each other — because I made her come with me — and we were like, “Holy shit. What is going on? A milkshake place?”
How do you feel about being a sex symbol? Is it complicated?
It can be complicated. I definitely see the things that I brought on myself, the biggest being the robbery. Just being flashy and oversharing my every move on social media. But I enjoy my life. Someone said to me the other day, “What is it like being you?” It’s awesome.
What else has changed since 2010? There’s a sense I have that you’ve been dressing a little less sexy recently.
I saw this whole thing where it’s like, “She’s so demure, and she’s covered.” And I was like, “Guys, I had a shearling coat on and a turtleneck because it’s, like, freezing.” But I think I have a little bit. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my husband has voiced that sometimes too sexy is just overkill and he’s not comfortable with that. I listen to him and understand him. Still, at the end of the day, he always gives me the freedom to be and do what I want. But I have kind of had this awakening myself. I realized I could not even scroll through Instagram in front of my kids without full nudity coming up on my feed pretty much all the time. And I definitely contributed to that. I mean, one of my most iconic covers was the Paper magazine one, when I was all oiled up and ripping my dress off. I also did think, like, Okay, I’m here in the White House and then the next day I was posting, like, a crazy bikini selfie. And I was thinking, I hope they don’t see this. I have to go back there next week.
I think I’m evolving to where I don’t feel the need to want to keep up. Not that I did it to feel like I had to keep up, but I guess I just don’t care as much anymore to want to take tons of photos in a thong bikini. I actually just want to lay out. I don’t care to take the time out of my day on vacation like I used to, where I’d pull up to the house and I’d see, This is a setup, this is an Instagram pic. Now this is a different setup. Oh, this place has so many different setups. This is going to be amazing. And now I’m just like, “Let’s actually live in real time and enjoy it. If we happen to get a photo, great.”
How has your relationship with Kanye evolved?
The one consistent thing is our relationship has never stopped being fun.
And it’s okay to not understand each other. It’s okay to not have the same exact feelings all the time. It’s just about figuring out how do we grow from that? or what’s the lesson from that? and giving each other space and time to figure that out.
You should see what he’s working on now. All home stuff. He’s fascinated with buildings and homes. He wants to do low-income housing, and have the design be elevated: simple and cool and affordable. He really supports James Turrell in his Crater and they’re working on stuff together that will be exciting. He’s building the community.
There was a tweet from the political reporter Ben Jacobs on October 29, after the Armenia genocide was officially recognized by Congress for the first time ever, that said “Kim Kardashian is probably the most successful policy advocate during the Trump administration so far.” I’m sure you saw that.
No! I had mentioned the genocide at the White House, trying to figure out what had been the issue. Why haven’t past presidents wanted to call it a genocide? Only Ronald Reagan did that. It’s super-important to the Armenian people. I was raised really Armenian-American. I [went to Armenia,] met with the prime minister, had dinner with the president, [and then I] spoke to Jackie Speier, our congresswoman. And the vote was a really high number in favor of. [To the chef who’s serving lunch] Thank you. This is all vegan?
Chef: No. This is vegan, and this is real chicken.
KK: Oh! I was like, that looks too lifelike …
Too delicious! That’s funny … Okay, so you are about to go visit Rodney Reed, who is on death row in Texas.
His case popped up a few months ago on my computer, I think on Twitter. I opened it right after I’d watched a movie that had me crying. It was Just Mercy, about a wrongfully convicted man, and it reminded me of Rodney’s story. And I was like, Oh my God, this is a sign. I have to say something.
I am going to go and visit him on Friday. My attorneys are in communication with his attorneys and really helping out. I can go because of my attorney-client privilege; I’m in an internship program in law school. He will be moved to the death chambers, ready for execution, which is in a different section—even separate from death row. I’ve never been to anything like that before. I’ve been to death row at San Quentin. I am still very hopeful. Usually, when they do a stay of execution, it happens right before the execution, sometimes hours before.
The awakening of your activism for criminal-justice reform — is it related to the fact that you’re now the mother of four African-American kids?
It definitely has a lot to do with it. I want my children to have a fair life. And I do believe that race does play a huge role in the criminal-justice system, if you look at all the numbers. Statistically, one in three black men will be locked up in their lifetime. So that does weigh heavy on my heart. I had many conversations with my dad growing up about being an attorney and what’s fair and what’s not, and maybe I was really sheltered, but I didn’t know all of this was going on. I never had a close connection to someone who had been in prison — to understand how they treat you there and what really goes on. I don’t know if that’s being naïve, if that’s how I grew up. I don’t know.
When I have visited the White House, if I feel like something isn’t fair, I’ll say something, maybe privately. And if I can plant a seed, great. Everyone was so worried about me, about my reputation, going to the White House, and it was like, A life or my reputation?
I don’t care who it is. I’m just glad someone is listening and making a change. I hope to have an amazing relationship with the next president. I hope to still have a voice for people on the inside, who do not care at all who signs their commutation paper.
Could you have imagined ten years ago that you would have political influence in this country?
Absolutely not. I’m just as surprised as everyone else.
Can you ever imagine running for office?
People do ask that, and I’m like, “No, not really.” I do feel like I have really good values, but that’s not what I’m looking to do. I hope that I will always be … advising in some way. I’m hoping that we can put together a really good clemency board that could be really helpful to the White House.
Do you think celebrities have a more of an obligation to talk about politics now?
When you first come in the game, you hire a publicist, and after a couple of years, they tell you you’ve got to get into doing charity work. And if you want be looked at as x, y, and z, you’ve got to do this. I was like, Wow, this is how it works? I thought it was all real! I thought you picked what you really love to do, and then figure that out as you get older and your life takes you there. They were like, “Nope. You gotta find a cause, and you gotta stick with it.” I felt like it was all so contrived.
I truly think once I got robbed, it took something out of me in the best way. All the things that really mattered to me then deeply — how many bags I had, what car I drove … I still like all that stuff, but it doesn’t matter. It could go away. For so long, people have tried to partner me with things. But this was the first thing where I thought, You know what? I want to go to law school. I want to help people. Let me work for the next ten years and build up my brands, and then one day, in ten years, just give up being Kim K. and become a lawyer. And now I’ve come to a realization about what I care about. No publicist would have ever told me to get into prison reform. It was always like, Get into Operation This and Children That.
As you talk about caring less about cars and bags, it occurs to me that a lot of the culture of lefty politics right now is about people being disgusted with billionaires.
Yeah, well, I think lately people are just mad a lot in general. The era of cancel culture? It’s not really a real thing. They say it, and it doesn’t happen. I’ve always believed in second chances and not canceling people. It’s really a weird time.
Oprah once said to me, “People often ask, ‘Who is the next Oprah?’ And the truth is there won’t be a ‘next Oprah.’ ” What she was really saying is that the stars had aligned and that it would never happen again in quite that way. Could your success be replicated?
I have always felt that with my show starting off on regular television and then transcending into the social-media world, it was the perfect magic of old-school media with new-school media all happening at the same time. I do think that there will be something else that will be big and just as amazing, but it won’t be the same.
When I launch a product, I’ll still go do television. I used to do Jay Leno and David Letterman, and I was talking to Kendall and Kylie about this, and Kylie said, “Who’s Jay Leno?” I literally died! I mean, Kendall knows Jay Leno, probably for his cars and stuff, because she loves old cars, but she mostly knows Fallon and a different generation of hosts.
The other thing about social media now is that authenticity for Gen Z and millennials is paramount, it seems, and anything with a whiff of fakeness is really distrusted.
But it’s kind of like they’re searching for authenticity, and then sometimes, when they get it, they want to cancel it.
It makes me think of that great Courtney Love lyric: “I fake it so real I’m beyond fake.”
Oh, I don’t remember that.
It’s from that Hole song “Doll Parts” from the mid-’90s.
Oh, I loved Hole.
Do you remember your first tweet?
I was in Mexico. Ryan Seacrest, the executive producer of the show, got me out of the pool for an “important phone call,” and I’m like, “I usually don’t talk to the boss. What’s wrong?” And he was like, “You have to get on Twitter,” and I was like, “Okay, I’ll do whatever my boss says.” I got on and tweeted something like, “Hey guys, it’s Kim Kardashian, there’s probably fake accounts of me, but this is the real me.” I mean, who knows what I said? For my first Instagram — I’ll never forget this. Because I’m always glammed up, when I’m at home I’m in a robe 24/7. And I have the same two or three pajamas that I wear all the time. They have holes in them, and I can’t get rid of them. So I was wearing a pink-and-white-striped robe from Victoria’s Secret. My hair was in a ponytail. I always know my glam. I was sitting in my glam room and we took a picture on my BlackBerry, and I posted it, like, “Hey guys. I’m on Instagram.”
I realized pretty quickly that social media was going to be used as my marketing tool and my free focus group. It was when I had to design my perfume bottle, and I wanted a pink bottle. Should it be, like, a bright pink or should it be a lighter pink? I couldn’t decide. So I took a picture of each and put them on Twitter and said, “Hey guys, I need you to decide: Which one do you like better?” I got responses and replies for days. It was from people all over the world, and it was all hours of the night. I would write down on a pad of paper a poll or, like, the tally. Light pink won by so much. These are the consumers that are going to be buying it, and they felt like they were involved.
When people got so upset about the name Kimono for your shapewear line, I saw you on Twitter responding to people about it.
Were you with me?
I was watching. I remember being annoyed that people were mad about it. I thought, That’s a great name!
Yeah. I thought it was great, too. We didn’t think about it, you know? Now people come to us and say, “Oh, you guys planned that, didn’t you? That was too good of a buzz.” I was like, Yeah, I wish. Like, I have millions of garments I’m stuck with. I would never try to offend a culture or lose out on all this potential product. After the fact, Kendall was saying to me, “But I was so confused by the name Kimono because it’s, like, are you selling kimonos? You’re selling underwear.” And I was like, “I just didn’t even put two and two together.” I thought, I love the name Kimono. And not one retailer, not one person we went to, said that they thought we might have a problem, including my friends and business partners, some of whom are Asian.
Being a successful businesswoman — does that all make sense given who you were when you were younger?
If you asked me to pick fame or fortune, I would not pick fame. It’s always been about working hard and making money. I never didn’t work hard. I had a job all through high school, always worked and was always proud to work, whether in a clothing store or for my dad. I never wanted an easy ride or a free ticket. We always saw my grandma work, and my grandfather stayed home. He was a stay-at-home grandpa. My great-grandmother started a candle shop, and my mom used to work there. And then my grandmother started a kids’-clothing store, which she just gave that up last year. I worked for her in the summer, rolling up all the money and counting it for her and taking it to the bank. But my mom didn’t work for the majority of my life, until my parents got a divorce and she had to figure it out. And she became Bruce’s manager and agent. I saw her work really hard at that. But I also saw her struggle, trying to figure out how she was going to put her kids through private schools. We grew up with privilege, but it was never handed to us.
Did I tell you the Chanel story? I can’t believe I’m telling this story. So I go to my first Met Ball. Carine Roitfeld comes up to me and says, “I have an idea for you: Would you ever do a photo shoot for CR magazine? I’d love for you to be on the cover. I want Karl Lagerfeld to shoot it and Riccardo will art-direct it and I will style it.” So me, who has never been accepted into fashion at this point, my jaw dropped. “When? I’ll be there!” I go to Paris. My mom comes with me. I sit there; I wait. I do the fitting. Olivier Rousteing of Balmain sent me my favorite cake from Hotel Costes because he knew I was pregnant, and I’m sitting there eating, looking like a pig, and Karl walks in. And I had told one of my girlfriends that I’m doing this with Karl, and she’s like, “Oh my God, he’s going to give you a bag.” He gives every one of his models, especially on their first shoot, a bag. So the whole time I’m in Paris, she’s texting: “What’s the bag? Keep me posted, text me a picture.” Now it’s nine at night. Is this a myth? Halfway through the shoot, my mom walks in and she’s wearing Chanel leggings, Chanel thigh-high boots, blazer, turtleneck, dangling earrings, Chanel cuffs, gloves, sunglasses, beret: She was decked in Chanel from the ’80s. Karl stops the shoot and walks over to her and is like, “Oh my God, are you her mother? I remember this jacket! I remember these gloves! I did those earrings!” The two of them have this love affair like I’ve never seen before. And I’m like, Hello? I’m sitting here posing. I’m so uncomfortable. I’m like, This is so embarrassing, and this is so annoying. I remember texting my sisters and being like, “Guys, mom is stealing my shiiiine. This is my first fashion shoot! So then the shoot’s over, and he comes out with something behind his back. And I’m like: “THE BAAAAAG. IT’S HEEEERRE. OH MY GOD.” I’m thinking: I will cherish this forever, and I’m pregnant, so one day I’ll give this bag to my daughter. Then he comes up and he’s like, “Kim, this was the best shoot. Thank you so much. But Kris, here is a bag for you,” and he gives the fucking bag to my mom. And it was a LEGO clutch. They were like ten grand, and you could never get one. And this was all Swarovski crystal with hand stones that was just a sample that never made it to production. So I go into the bathroom and start crying. I was like, Oh my God, she fully stole my life. She stole my whole day today! This was my biggest moment ever in fashion, with Carine, Riccardo, and Karl! I went back to the hotel, and Olivier had decked my room in Balmain: boots, coat. Beaded, this crazy, intricate stuff. So there was a little bit of a silver lining. To this day, she has the bag in her closet. And I’ve said to her: “Just so we’re clear, in your will, this goes to North.” I don’t need it. That bag was for my daughter.
Over this past decade, it seemed to me that the culture came to accept body modification and plastic surgery in a different way. It stopped being a secret.
Oh, the Instagram accounts from surgeons are something that I love to go through. If someone asks, “What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?,” there’s really nothing, because everyone knows everything about me. But the one thing that only my close circle knows is that I love to research every single procedure to know exactly what’s out there. And people call me all the time, like really famous people, out of the blue and are like, “I know we don’t know each other, but I’ve heard you’re the expert and I’m looking to do x, y, and z. Who would you recommend?” And I’ll be like, “Actually, I’ve just researched this!” I’ll meet with doctors and be like, “So when I’m 50, do you think my neck is going to, like … ? What’s the best way to do it?”
Another thing that’s changed over the last ten years is that we went from the so-called leaked sex tape as a thing that was used to shame women to now, where we call it revenge porn.
Wow! I never even thought about that. I guess that question is a bit tricky. Not even for my situation, but because my brother did post photos of his baby mama and he’s in a revenge-porn lawsuit. Obviously, I get the difference. And I would talk about me. But I don’t know the right thing to say without making him feel like the biggest piece of shit.
But there’s so many more things like that that have changed. I think the Me Too culture goes into the cancel-culture realm, where maybe … Well, I don’t want to speak for people who have been sexually assaulted because I actually don’t know what that’s like. But even just finding love in the workplace … That used to be the only way, you know. So many of my parents’ friends married their secretaries, and were together for 40 years, and have children together. And now it’s like, “Oh, how could you?” The head of McDonald’s getting fired for having a consensual relationship with a co-worker. That kind of threw me off a little bit, just thinking how times have changed.
You’ve got two boys and two girls, and they must express their gender in surprising ways. We live in a world now where gender is discussed so differently than even a couple years ago.
It’s very traditional with what they gravitate toward. I haven’t shown them; I haven’t tried to sway any decision. I would be extremely supportive of whatever my children wanted and felt they wanted to play with and wear. I’m very open like that. But I haven’t dealt with that on a personal level, except for maybe with Caitlyn and stories that I would hear from her childhood. Her transition, I think, was a huge moment in this decade. We received so many letters and messages from people who have been through something similar. That was really a moment for me where I felt like, Wow, I’m so proud of our show. We showed so much of that and our feelings and what we were going through, whether some of us were upset or confused or whatever. We really showed all of it because that’s naturally what you go through. I was so nervous for Caitlyn just because I thought people were going to be nasty to her.
So did I. I didn’t have as much faith in people as I should have had.
I even said at the time, “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure? Like, come on. People are going to be so awful.” My whole thing was just, like, “People aren’t going to understand. Why would you want to do that?” And then when she said, “I’m sure,” I said, “Okay, if you’re sure, you’ve got to look amazing.”
Having so much of your life filmed — what is the cumulative result of all of that? Have you ever regretted it?
I’ve never regretted it. I’ve always felt like I’m so grateful to have all of those memories on-camera. I will look back and think, Oh my God, what was I wearing? Why is my makeup like that? But I can sit back and laugh and think it’s funny to see how much I cared and me wanting to be famous so badly. I can laugh at it now: Oh my God, I was desperate!
Thank you to the Ritz Carlton New York, Central Park.
*A version of this article appears in the November 25, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!