Of the many labels hurled at Kanye West, it feels like visionary and influential are used the most. He’s lauded for his propensity to “think outside the box,” to “set trends” and the like. At one time this all was true. His fashion sense has reverberated not only through rap but through the industry of celebrity as a whole. His music helped shape the genre that birthed him and pop as well for nearly a decade. Kanye was a visionary and he used to be influential. But now, he’s just a Kardashian and his video for “Famous,”, released Friday night, confirms it.
Kanye revels in spectacle instead of artistry now. Each act is meant to one up the next, the art is not nearly as significant as the fervor it causes online. His last album, The Life of Pablo got littered with lines meant to poke and prod the internet crowd and create discussion, good taste or rhythm be damned.
It’s not the only trick he has left. Yeezy remains as gifted a producer/composer as ever, but attention-seeking is the easiest, lowest hanging fruit he can pick from. It’s rap’s answer to the sports “hot take”: Kanye just spews outlandish bullshit he knows will garner a reaction.
Taylor Swift owes him sex. Ray J should be his friend. Bleached assholes stain his shirts and everything else. Kanye stopped innovating and moved on to nothing more than instigating. He goads celebrities, critics and fans into reactions and giggles at the attention.
The “Famous” video embodies the visual manifestation of his downturn. Kanye apologists, sympathizers, worshippers and everything in between will say it’s artistic expression and a commentary on fame and celebrity. That’s fine, that’s what he was going for so if viewed through those tinted lenses that is there to be seen.
In reality though, it’s just another Kardashian PR stunt. The celebrities chosen are there for the sake of attention, scandal and salacious clickbait. Chris Brown and Rihanna are not only a tone deaf paring, but a convenient one. Same for Donald Trump, George Bush and everybody else. Amber Rose and Ray J laying next to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian is straight out of a tabloid or a blind item revealed in the deepest, darkest corners of internet gossip forums.
Kanye wasn’t even bold enough to use the space as a endorsement of any of his subjects, not even Bill Cosby, who he once proclaimed innocent for all the world to see. “It’s not in support or anti any of (the people in the video),” he told Vanity Fair. “It’s a comment on fame.” Make no mistake, the “Famous” video seeks to be controversial and nothing else, and with the celebrities chosen for this “statement” it comes off as contrived as the drama on a typical episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
The “you just don’t get it” crowd will have to work overtime to excuse, explain and apologize for “Famous.” The message isn’t some deep nugget meant to be forged with analysis. We get it. When stripped down to their birthday suits, celebs are just regular folks like the rest of us.
See, look at Chris Brown’s plumber crack and Amber Rose’s snoring. But really, this is just a bunch of naked wax figures in a bed with Kanye and his forever attention-seeking wife. Even the premiere event was lazy, a simple and much less enjoyable rehash of his Pablo listening party/Yeezy Season 3 fashion show. The same seating arrangement with Kardashians grouped together with their black male accessories. The same celebrity cameos, and the same aux cord DJ session afterwards.
Speaking of rehashing, for all of the talk about the inspiration for the video, Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep,” yields further proof that this isn’t expression, it’s just attention seeking plagiarism. For Desiderio, who reportedly assisted Kanye with the video, the visual “visited” him as he was battling cancer in 2000.
It was nearly eight years of work before the painting was finished, including four years of reworking it after he sold the painting in 2004. For Kanye, it was a painting he saw and copied. He took Desiderio’s work, swapped in some celebrities and awaited the commotion he knew that would cause. There’s no expression here, no commentary, just stimulation of the lowest common denominator.
Kanye married into a family that relishes on scandal, appearances and attention and he’s clearly integrated into the Kardashian clan. If that’s his goal, fine, but don’t call it art. Call it exactly what it is. Kanye’s “Famous” video is yet another publicity stunt from a Kardashian meant to grab headlines, trend online, raise their visibility, keep people talking and “break the internet.” Kanye didn’t post a nude picture on Instagram or blame his daughter for accidentally posting a picture, but he might as well have.
It accomplished all those goals, so he got exactly what he wanted. Maybe the Kardashians’ media mastery is an art form, but it’s not the art we want from our visionary and most influential artist of this generation. It’s not that we want the “old Kanye” back, we just want Kanye West not Kanye Kardashian.