Elon Musk finds his inner Ken and paints Twitter black for ‘X’ vision

Barbie’s would-be boyfriend has a less fragile ego than the owner of the newly rebranded social media app

If we’ve learned anything over the past few days, it’s that displays of male insecurity manifesting as a desire to take over the world can be funny.

The precise situation in which they’re funny is when it’s Ryan Gosling leaning heavily into the fur-robed role of a patriarchy-inspired Ken doll and the world he and his fragile ego want to take over is Barbieland.

When it’s Elon Musk boring on about his bid to make Twitter a “super-app” that involves users banking in the same place they do Barbenheimer memes, it’s not quite so much fun.

The billionaire warned last October that his outlay on the social media company would be “an accelerant to creating X, the everything app”. On Sunday he announced that the Twitter name and dainty blue bird logo had only hours to live and would be replaced by a manly X.


“Paint It Black,” he started the day tweeting, taking the title of the 1966 Rolling Stones classic about grief and despondency and turning it into a gnomic instruction for a rebrand.

The web address X.com now redirects to Twitter and an interim “X” lords it over users’ feeds as a reminder to everyone on there that social media is not a democracy, but a tedious dictatorship populated by X-tremists. No day-glo here. Only a big strong X for big strong X-men.

This, as journalist Lillian Crawford tweeted, is a bit like coming back to the Barbie Dreamhouse and finding that Ken has downgraded it to a Mojo Dojo Casa House.

Others, also quoting the Greta Gerwig blockbuster, told Musk he was “Kenough”, presumably in a desperate plea for him stop thrashing about alpha male-style and ruining everything for everybody else.

We already knew that Musk was inexorably drawn to the 24th letter of the alphabet, and not just because the shortened version of his toddler son’s name is “X”.

He once cofounded an online bank called X.com that merged with another company to form PayPal, though he wanted to keep the X. His satellite and rockets company is called SpaceX. And he owns several companies named with a variation of X Holdings, using one of them – X Holdings II – to acquire Twitter, making it X Corp.

It fell to the woman he hired, former NBCUniversal advertising sales boss turned Twitter chief executive Linda Yaccarino, to elaborate on the vision.

“X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services and opportunities. Powered by AI, X will connect us all in ways we’re just beginning to imagine.”

Oh brilliant, here comes the mention of AI – now as inevitable in business-speak as leather sofas are in Ken’s “Kendom”.

She continued: “We’ve already started to see X take shape over the past eight months through our rapid feature launches, but we’re just getting started. There’s absolutely no limit to this transformation. X will be the platform that can deliver, well ... everything.”

The effusive pitch immediately triggered an outpouring of references to another Ken – Succession’s Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong) – with Yaccarino’s corporate gloss getting the response it deserved: the mass posting of images of sad Kendall in peak guff-spouting mode.

But at least the second-eldest Roy son could be talked back from the precipice of foolish missions by wiser counsel. There is little evidence that Yaccarino or anyone else has had any luck on that front with Musk.

Instead, the woman whose negotiating skills were respected enough for her to earn the nickname the “velvet hammer” in her broadcasting days has become the mouthpiece for her employer’s stunts.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” is an Upton Sinclair line much-invoked in these complicit times. It is a measure of feminist progress of sorts that the quote so often applies to women too.

“Lights. Camera. X!” Yaccarino declared as the X logo was projected on to the company’s San Francisco headquarters like a rubbish bat signal. This was reminiscent of something slightly later and less jazzy in history than the “minimalist art deco” vibe Musk attributed to the apparently crowdsourced design.

Yaccarino’s task to bring advertisers back to Twitter is, at best, a work in progress and, at worst, mission impossible.

Although Musk told the BBC in April that “almost all” advertisers had either returned or said they would, he admitted this month that the company was still in negative cash flow due to a drop of about 50 per cent in advertising revenue and the “heavy debt load” that originated from his $44 billion (€44 billion) acquisition.

What of the idea of X becoming a banking platform? Well, as painful as it might be for many users to fully wrest themselves free from the hold Twitter has on them, initial reactions suggests the majority would have more faith in a Mattel-controlled financial system in which beach-ready Ken is the top central banker and the only legal tender is Barbiecoin.

In the absence of any improvement in advertising revenue or brand trust, it seems premature to discuss the merits of Musk’s “everything app” plan more seriously.

Let us dwell instead on his thoughts on Barbenheimer on the basis that they are just as meaningful. Here, it seems, Musk is out of step with the cinemagoing population as he doesn’t appear keen on either film.

“Indeed,” he agreed, after OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman said Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s biopic of “father of the atomic bomb” Robert Oppenheimer, had “really missed the mark” when it came to inspiring a generation of kids to become physicists. Hmm, yes, I guess Nolan had other artistic priorities in this instance.

As for Barbie, a film that explores power dynamics in the real world from the right-wing takeover of the US Supreme Court to the male exploitation of female empowerment messages, it seems Gerwig’s satire on sexual politics isn’t his cup of tea.

“If you take a shot every time Barbie says the word ‘patriarchy’, you will pass out before the movie ends,” he tweeted.

It’s a challenge Musk fans will ideally accept in their masses. But surely the man who owns X.com can hold his drink?