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Kanye West – Famous (Official Video) – Weirdest Music Video Ever
Am watching a video of 12 of the most famous people on the planet naked in bed together. The material is being guarded so closely that the people in possession of it have refused to send me a link in case it gets hacked. Instead I’m looking at it via Skype, with the person on the other end of the line pointing the camera at a laptop screen on which the footage is playing. You can understand the desire for secrecy. As the camera’s ghostly night-vision lens pans slowly, hypnotically over the mostly sleeping bodies, their identities are revealed as follows: George W. Bush. Donald Trump. Anna Wintour. Rihanna. Chris Brown. Taylor Swift. Kanye West. Kim Kardashian West. Ray J. Amber Rose. Caitlyn Jenner. Bill Cosby.
Fast forward 48 hours. By now—at this exact moment in fact, if all goes to plan—the rest of the world will be watching the film. That includes the 8,000 people seeing it on a 100-foot screen at the live unveiling at the L.A. Forum, as well as the glazed-eyed legions catching the live stream on Tidal or the afterglow on social media. Because the scenario I’ve described above forms the action of Kanye West’s visual manifesto for his new single “Famous.”
The crew West gathered one way or another (more on that below) for his meditation on fame in America includes current and ex-lovers (Kardashian West, Rose), collaborators and extended family (Rihanna, Jenner), and those with whom he is simply partners in controversy. Of George W. Bush, the then president he accused on live television of not caring about black people, West, speaking by phone from L.A., now reflected, “Maybe in some alternative universe me and George Bush could have been friends. I could have been his O.J. Simpson black friend on the golf course.” What about the inclusion of Cosby? Is that an endorsement? West once tweeted: BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!. “It’s not in support or anti any of [the people in the video],” West said. “It’s a comment on fame.”
Which brings us inevitably to Taylor Swift. The moment West debuted the track at the listening party for his album The Life of Pablo at Madison Square Garden in February, Famous became infamous because of that line. I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, he rapped. Why? I made that bitch famous. Since then West and Swift have been trading public barbs on how much he discussed it with her in advance, but West now refuses to be drawn further on the issue.
Important to West was that he had his wife’s co-sign. “[I say] a lot of lines other wives would not allow a husband to say,” he said. “But my wife also puts up photos that other husbands wouldn’t let them put up. One of the keys to happiness in our marriage is we’re allowed to be ourselves.” The video also reminds me of something West said about himself and Kardashian West in an earlier conversation: “Our life is walking performance art.”
How much of what appears in “Famous” is real? The video, which was filmed over a period of three months and cycled through four different formats and several different collaborators until West felt he’d achieved the result he wanted, leaves you guessing as to which of the celebrities are really playing themselves and which are presumably only there by the grace of some advanced prosthetic wizardry (will the real Taylor Swift please stand up?). Speaking from an L.A. editing suite where he was still obsessively recutting the film the day before its premiere—while also shooting a new scene involving Caitlyn Jenner and a purple Porsche—West was loath to divulge too much of what went on behind the curtain. For him, the ambiguity goes to the core of what he’s trying to say about the mythos of contemporary celebrity.
West has pushed the format of the music video before, most notably in 2010’s “Runaway,” the 35-minute-long mini-epic he made to showcase the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But, if you’ll excuse the expression, this is his most naked attempt to raise the music video to the level of an art piece. “Matthew Barney is my Jesus,” he said, referring to the artist known for his use of living sculptures in works like The Cremaster Cycle. (West was also directly inspired by the work of American realist painter Vincent Desiderio.)
West’s video has some of the salacious trappings of a pop promo—the night-vision vibes; the presence of Ray J., who previously appeared in a sex tape with Kim, an epochal event that West hasn’t been shy about referencing in his lyrics. But here he raises those expectations only to confound them. “We were very careful with shots that had [something] sexual to take them out,” he said. What we see instead is a moody, quasi-religious tableau of naked, vulnerable, strangely peaceful bodies at rest. Under the sheets, West seems to be saying, celebrities are just like us.
Tonight’s premiere is just a prelude. In August, West embarks on a nearly 40-city North American tour to perform The Life of Pablo, and “Famous” offers only a hint at the spectacle we can expect. It’s too early to say what the reaction to “Famous” will be, but West has already won over one constituency. He has previewed the film for a few celebrity pals who don’t appear in it. “Guess what the response is when I show it to them?” he said. “They want to be in the bed.”
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