Breaking Down Justin Vernon’s Meta Humblebrag About Kanye West

Justin Vernon will release 22, A Million, his third album under the slippery, genre-splattering Bon Iver moniker, on September 30. The first tastes of the album have been glitchy but typically saccharine offerings, with Vernon’s falsetto anchoring swirling melodies and—well, you know what Bon Iver sounds like. It’s 2016. And as customary in the run-up to album drops, Vernon’s been back in the news, including via a newly published interview with The New York Times’ Jon Pareles.

About a third into the story, just after describing his Vernon’s “casually tousled” hair and “many tattoos,” Pareles zooms in on the personality behind the 35-year-old’s cabin-chic exterior. “The polite self-effacement of his Midwestern upbringing came through,” Pareles writes, “but Mr. Vernon battles excessive modesty.” For example:

“I got in a friendly argument with Kanye West about the word humble once,” [Vernon] recalled. “He said, ‘Have you ever looked up the word humble?’ I was like, ‘Actually I don’t know if I have.’ And he showed me the definition of it, and it’s far more self-demeaning, kind of the problematic Midwestern ‘Sorry!’ mentality, than I realized.”

This is a real story Justin Vernon told a New York Times reporter ostensibly (in a roundabout way) in promotion of his forthcoming album. It’s also the most brain-aching, most meta, most impressively unnecessary humblebrag of all time. Let’s break it down.

  1. “I got in a friendly argument with Kanye West”

Whoa there! That’s how you’re gonna start this one? I mean, listen: We all know you’ve been a Kanye collaborator since 2010, singing hooks and contributing background vocals on three of his studio releases. We also all know you and Kanye smoked a lot of weed together and played basketball in Hawaii. But we didn’t know that any argument with Kanye could be characterized as “friendly.” Kudos to you, sir. +5 brag points

2. “about the word humble”

Now you’re just fucking with us. You sparred with Kanye over the definition of the word “humble,” the very foundation upon which the term “humblebrag” (thanks, Harris) is built? That’s meta as hell. +10 brag points / +5 humble points

3. “He said, ‘Have you ever looked up the word humble?’ I was like, ‘Actually I don’t know if I have.’”

You’ve gotta give it to JV here: admitting, as a future pro humblebraggart, to a once-nascent understanding of the rules of the game, and then busting out the dictionary. Nice move. +5 humble points

4. “And he showed me the definition of it, and it’s far more self-demeaning, kind of the problematic Midwestern ‘Sorry!’ mentality, than I realized.”

But I thought the Midwest was young and restless, not overly self-demeaning? Or are the two concepts not mutually exclusive? This is actually making my brain hurt in other ways now. +5 brag points / +5 humble points

Brag points: 20 | Humble points: 15 | Total humblebrag score: 35

Total assessment: Justin Vernon 2016 is more braggart than humble Midwesterner. Don’t let the flannel and the emotional resonance—sure to be available in spades on 22, A Million, which I will keep at arm’s length at first, then slowly come around to before falling hard for and inevitably tweeting out an unprovoked defense of come December—fool you.