Kanye West, the rapper, fashion designer, showman and epic Twitter ranter, has maintained a low profile since canceling his “Saint Pablo” tour and being hospitalized in mid-November amid rumors of severe exhaustion.
But on Thursday, he reappeared in the public eye at an exhibition of furniture designed by Rick Owens, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
The rapper looked like his normal self, wearing white lace-up sneakers, a sweatshirt, skinny jeans and his usual half-grimace.
One seemingly small change: He was blond.
Speculation about the new look began immediately, even spawning a hashtag: #blondye (Ye is Mr. West’s nickname).
The most popular theory by far centered on Mr. West’s recent emotional turmoil. “Whenever someone comes in and suddenly wants a major color change out of nowhere, it usually means something is up,” said Laurie Daniel, a colorist at the Marie Robinson Salon in New York. “A divorce, a breakup, a crisis of some sort.”
Cases in point: Lindsay Lohan’s conversion to a brunette in early 2008, after a year of arrests and stints in rehab; Britney Spears’s bald head, reportedly shaved by the pop star herself amid her divorce from Kevin Federline in 2007 and a custody battle; Joe Jonas’s Smurf-like spikes after his breakup from Gigi Hadid; and Gwen Stefani’s blue-black bob, which came a month after the announcement of her divorce from Gavin Rossdale, her husband of 13 years.
Ms. Daniel typically tries to steer clients away from radical hair alterations like these if they are a way of managing distress. “As professionals, most of us try to talk people out of doing such a drastic thing, because it’s coming from a place of helplessness and not being able to change other aspects of your life,” she said. “Inevitably, they want to go back the same color they had before.”
Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist who has done research into fame and celebrity, took a more positive view of Mr. West’s light locks, however, comparing the change to Megyn Kelly’s decision to cut her hair short earlier this year, which the anchor attributed to “a stronger mood,” or to Sia’s use of wigs to shield her face, a method that the singer said created a sense of mystery and gave her a modicum of privacy.
“Changing our look can be very empowering to us,” Ms. Rockwell said. “For Megyn Kelly, it wasn’t so much a style issue as about empowerment. And for Sia, it’s almost as a political statement. ‘You will see me when I deem so.’”
She noted that hair, as a physical feature, has a special role that can be traced back as far as biblical times. “You have Samson,” she said. “He was this big, burly fellow, but his strength was in his hair. He lost his power when his hair got cut. Hair is how we define our strength, prowess, identity.”
She concluded that for Mr. West, as for other celebrities, a hair transformation tells the public that despite the scrutiny and the competing narratives being told by onlookers, he is still in charge of his own life.
“It’s a way of taking control back,” she said. “It’s him saying, ‘This might be going on in the media and in the greater public opinion of me, but I have control and I will do what I want.’”
Other hypotheses regarding the blond top focused less on Mr. West’s mental state and more on his history. They included the suggestion that he’s taking a cue from his wife — Kim Kardashian West regularly changes from brunette to blonde — or showing support for the musician Frank Ocean, whose album “Blonde,” released earlier this year, wasn’t nominated for any Grammys. Mr. West co-wrote one of the songs on the album, according to liner notes.
In October, Mr. West threatened that he wouldn’t show up to the Grammy Awards if “Blonde” weren’t nominated. (Granted, neither Mr. Ocean nor his label or representatives submitted the album for consideration.)
Perhaps he decided to take a stance now that the lists of nominees have officially been released.
Of course, it’s possible everyone is overthinking the matter, and Mr. West just felt like changing things up. That’s the view the musician Pharrell took during an interview on the radio station Hot 97 last week. “I think he’s an artist,” he said. “I think as people we have to be able to express ourselves. No matter where we are or what we are doing.”