November 3, 2010

Doc Zeus is different for the sake of being misanthropic. 

Before we get started, I’d like to briefly summarize the plot of “Runaway:”

Kanye West is driving in the woods (presumably because he wants to look at deer. There are a lot deer in the video) when he crashes his sports car into Selita Ebanks dressed like a giant naked turkey. After pondering this quandary for a few moments, Kanye makes the only logical decision an eccentric rapper/fashionista would make in this situation: he takes her home to his lavish apartment instead of calling an ambulance or taking her the hospital. After Selita understandably freaks out when he realizes that she’s essentially living the plot to “The Human Centipede,” she warms up to Kanye when she realizes he owns farm animals.

Kanye tries to woos her with his impressive MPC skills and by taking her to a creepy parade with the disembodied head of child molestation accusation-era Michael Jackson as a float. Soon, they are in love. Kanye brings her to a dinner party with the cast of Def Poetry Jam where some of his guests are quite perplexed that he’s dating a turkey. He claims he doesn’t notice. During dinner, Kanye performs a song for his audience. There are ballerinas. Everybody is impressed because Kanye is a famous musician and it’s probably rude to come to a dinner party and complain about the entertainment. Things are going well until the white servants (clearly miffed Obama is instilling his Christian Black Liberation ideology on right-thinking Americans) try to serve Selita her turkey friend on a platter and she understandably bugs the fuck out.

After dinner, Selita and Kanye have a meaningful talk on the hill in which she demonstrates a poor understanding of what statues are made of. They have sex. The next morning, Kanye awakens to find himself alone and that she has left his flat. Kanye goes sprinting into the woods after her only to discover that she is really Turkey Jesus and she ascends back to heaven. This takes 34 minutes.

Clearly, this is all ridiculous. Taken at nearly any level, a half hour-long music video depicting the relationship between a man and an anthropomorphized mythical bird (even one with breasts at exquisite as Selita Ebanks’) is absurdly grandiose to the point of gut-busting laughability. Even if read on a subtextual level as a metaphor for West’s inability to connect with women, the level of hubristic folly is so staggeringly incoherent that the themes get buried within a heaping pile of “WTF?” The Michael Jackson tribute parade sequence, the pointless, slow motion shots of wildlife and the ballerinas, are all images so jarringly out of place that one begins to wonder if he’s not dripping liquid cocaine into his eyeballs with Kid Cudi in a Manhattan loft.

It hasn’t been a particularly good year for Ye Tudda. The Taylor Swift bum rush at the 2009 VMA’s transformed Kanye into a public villain to most of the American republic. Before the incident, Kanye’s somewhat frequent displays of egocentrism (like protesting a review of a concert in Entertainment Weekly) seemed quaint and maybe even charming. Sure, they could be annoying, but they all seemed more the work of an eccentric genius unconcerned with the niceties of society, rather than the machinations of a malicious egotist.

Whether it was due to the latent racial politics or the self-aggrandizing absurdity of a grown man protesting the loss of a vanity award given to a teenager for something he wasn’t even nominated for, the Taylor Swift incident came across as bullying and mean-spirited. He faced a level of scrutiny and excoriation that he was probably unprepared for, and given his constant need for media validation by the media, it was something he was ill-equipped to handle. Combined  with the recent loss of his mother and the dissolution of his relationship with his longtime fiancee, a pop psychologist might assume that would make sense for Kanye to start to withdraw from society.

“Runaway” bears the mark of an artist whose fame and lack of connection to reality has left them on the fringes of society. Whether it was expanding the levels of musicality on “Late Registration” or experimenting with the extents of personal expression on “808s & Heartbreak,” Kanye’s always been on the cutting-edge of hip hop. Yet there always seemed to be a purpose behind the madness. Artistic ambition has always been a Ye hallmark, but the “Runaway” video seems to be only ambitious for the sake of being ambitious.

What’s the point behind all the grandiosity and scope of the 34 minute running time? Is there a particular point behind the elaborately choreographed ballet sequences? Is he saying that hip hop music (or pop music) needs more ballet? And if so, why? Abstraction, is always going to be bizarre and potentially off-putting, but in order for it to resonate with a wide audience, a piece of art needs to have connection to an idea behind it. The story of “Runaway” seems to be about failed relationships and personal resurrection, but the visuals are so obtuse and crudely conceived that nearly everything is not only incomprehensible, it’s laughably absurd. In short, he’s forgotten that great art needs to aspire to more than just being different.

Of course, “Runaway” isn’t a total fiasco. The video is gorgeously shot and looks wonderful in high-definition, the choreography is crisp and fluid and there are intense moments where the visuals are purely mesmerizing. I’ve noted the ballet sequence in jest, but admittedly, that’s doing a discredit to the beauty and emotion those sequences contain. When scored to the brilliant and titular song, “Runaway,” it’s easily the most impressive and memorable sequence of the video.  If its goal is merely to introduce and impress upon jaded rap fans the beauty and skill of ballet, than the video is a rousing success.

In five minutes, Kanye and the performers are able to impress twice the emotion and thrice the coherency of  the other thirty minutes of the video. The song, “Runaway,” which scores the sequence might be his best work since his mother passed away, and perhaps the most nakedly honest of his entire career. It’s a tacit admission that he’s a man who feels lost in the world and can no longer to relate to people around him. Kanye manages to convey in five minutes what Drake only flailed and hinted at in an album’s worth of material: that fame can be destructively isolating to normal human relationships. So it’s an irony that the video falls victim to the bloat of its meandering ambition.

What “Runaway” needs is a massive, merciless edit. The romantic storyline should be nearly excised (or at least, placed into the background) and the video should be parsed down to Kanye’s dinner performance and ballet sequence. There’s a great piece of art lurking within the bloat, but it needs a judicious voice of reason to tell Kanye to refine his vision and let his music do the talking. Ambition without purpose only leads to insanity.

Download:
MP3: Kanye West-“The Joy”
MP3: Kanye West ft. Pusha T-“Runaway”

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