Mike Voss here, OogeeWoogee’s regular Kanye correspondent (Kanyespondent? No? Sorry). It appears Mr. West has gotten his name on the lips of most of America once again, this time due to his controversial new video for “Famous”, the first visual for anything on his latest album, The Life of Pablo. We can’t legally post the video here, so to watch it, you’ll need to either sign up for TIDAL or scour the interwebs for an alternative method to view it. Regardless of how you watch it, just don’t expect a…traditional music video experience, at all.
It’s being called an “art exhibition” (by Kanye himself, most notably), and also being called “sickening” by feminists like actress Lena Dunham. It seems like the always-divisive response Yeezy seems to get for anything he does strikes again. To describe the “plot” (if you want to call it that) of the video doesn’t really do the justice of actually watching it with your own eyes, but to sum it up: maybe a minute and a half of the actual tracks plays while purposely grainy footage of 12 very famous celebrities (well, very realistic prosthetic likenesses of them) lying butt ass naked in bed together, sleeping. Then, for about four minutes that seem much longer, the “Famous” visual displays these naked celebs breathing peacefully in their unconsciousness, which adds an intentionally creepy, voyeuristic aspect to the clip.
In this Vanity Fair article, Kanye explains that the video is intended to simply be a comment on fame itself, the celebrity-obsessed culture we live in today. It’s been said that if the piece made the viewer uncomfortable, then it’s done its job as a piece of art. And even if you’re on the side that doesn’t see the art in this, there’s no denying that the visual aesthetic was indeed inspired by art itself; specifically, a piece called “The Sleep” by realist painter Vincent Desiderio. Check out the clear similarity:
The featured celebrities are George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kanye himself, his wife Kim Kardashian West, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby. All twelve of these men and women (other than Trump and Cosby, who are presumably included just for being controversial in general) have been linked to West in some way over the course of his career. From those he’s collaborated with (Rihanna and Brown), to those he’s beefed with (Bush, Swift, Kim’s ex Ray J, and his own ex Rose), or admired (fashion icon Wintour), to his own family (wife Kim and her stepparent Jenner), they all represent multiple phases of his own outspoken, dichotomy-fueled life, laid out beside the rapper in this giant bed that he himself has made.
Kanye will be the first to admit that he’s obsessed with himself, from his accomplishments to his flaws; so there’s no doubt that the specific celebrities who were chosen by him and his team to be represented in “Famous” are meant to be a retrospective of sorts of some of the most notable figures he’s been connected to in various ways. But on the whole, the clip sends a bigger message than just more of the self-aggrandizement we’ve grown to expect from Yeezy.
But that’s not to say the meaning behind this video is “deep” by any means; it’s pretty obvious, honestly. It’s mocking the very culture that made the people depicted in it so damn famous, taunting the American people by asking, “hey, you wanna see how the celebrities you worship live? HERE, check them out, naked!“. The uncomfortably intimate setting of what appears to be the aftermath of a giant, uber-famous orgy is designed to make our skin crawl, while also tapping into our primal urge to see our “idols” at their most vulnerable. It’s meant to make us feel guilt for the invasive voyeurs we can be as the consumeristic public. The celebrities, as offended as some of them may be by the video (namely Tay Tay), really shouldn’t take their naked likenesses here personal; they’re merely vessels for a larger statement about modern Western culture as a whole.
Lyrically, the song itself is far from profound; the shit does bang, though. It’s as if Kanye knew that, and decided to construct a visual that would convey a more meaningful, artistic message than the actual record does. But is it really artistic, or just pseudo intellectual and kind of creepy?
It’s all of that and more.
“Famous” represents a new era of music videos where the video needs to be an event in itself in order to truly make any waves; there needs to be something more than just a performance flanked by girls, cars and money. But even more so than that, these days, even the music part of “music video” is not really necessary, which is proven here, as the entire song is not even played during the clip’s approximate 6 minute run time. This isn’t a visual accompaniment to a piece of music. This is a purposely awkward exhibition of art. This is masterfully marketed clickbait. This is the culmination of Kanye West’s personal revelations as he realizes that he’s literally married into celebrity culture, welcoming the paparazzi who trespass on his property with subconsciously open arms.
Or maybe I’m putting too much meaning behind it. Who really knows besides the man who made the music and dictated the idea for the video? Whether a marketing scheme, a socially conscious, artistic statement, both, or neither, one thing is for certain about the “Famous” visual: the internet still hasn’t shut up about it since it hit the internet on Friday. And in the ever-changing, fickle entertainment industry, that’s the most any artist or celebrity can ask for if they’re aiming to remain relevant. At the very least, ‘Ye is giving us some interesting discussion pieces which will likely still be mulled over after he either loses relevancy or slides off this mortal coil, keeping his name here to stay. As he says in the song…
“We neeeeever gonna die!”