KENDRICK LAMAR

VS.

YOUR OFF-BRAND POLITICS

all images:
Alright music video captures,
directed by Colin Tilley.

by
Ben Tuthill

Colin Tilley likes colors. Most people like colors.  We live in a colorful world, but for Tilley it’s not colorful enough. Or maybe it’s the exact right amount of colorful and the celebrity-occupied world of his music videos just deserves more. Everything is more in Tilley world:  egos are bigger, movements are faster, walls are more overwhelmingly pink. He’s this decade’s version of David LaChapelle, all saturated in high contrast filters and general fucked-up-ness, but with decidedly less self-importance. His subjects are very much part of their world (also brightly colored, also fucked up), but more than anything they give the sense that they don’t really care about much. That attitude pairs equally well with the Chris Brown’s brand of evil and Nicki Minaj’s eye-rolling post-feminism. Strip poker at Kevin McCall’s house or mass murder at a barber shop;  it’s all the same so long as you don’t take any of it too seriously.

There’s no color in Colin Tilley’s video for Kendrick Lamar’s Alright . This is weird. Tilley and Kendrick make a weird match in general;  Kendrick is nothing if not too serious. Depending on your tolerance for political pop music, he’s either the smartest or most pretentious major label rapper since Public Enemy. In a lot of ways I’m inclined toward the latter. Politics are complicated,  pop music is stupid. Kendrick is undeniably smart and undeniably talented,  but he’s still working within a medium that’s impossibly under-equipped to address the complexities of racial policing in American cities. Four minutes, four beats per measure, four rhymes per stanza don’t leave much room for nuanced political discourse.

I sometimes want to call Kendrick out on his naiveté (or disingenuousness;  it’s hard to say which).  There are better venues to talk about urban politics;  if you really care about racism, you should use them. And if you really care about pop music,  if you believe in a musical form that exists to express visceral experience through quickly resolving refrains and a repetitive drum beats,  then don’t muddle it with half-baked opinions. The two don’t mix well. Politics reduced to viscera is fascism. Pop music is pure viscera. There’s no time or place for nuance or complexity or genuine exposition of decent policy. No one ever said that Fantasy was a great thesis on love.

Love doesn’t need a thesis though, and listening to Fantasy gets at what ‘being in love’ is better than any thesis ever could. A thesis on love that doesn’t acknowledge that fact doesn’t deserve its subject matter. I guess the same goes for being alright. I don’t really know what ‘being alright’ means, but I know that it’s something I feel sometimes even when it doesn’t make any sense to feel it. It’s anti-political;  everything is complicated and maybe irresolvable, but there’s a palpable sense of rest at the center of it that makes feel like maybe things are going to be ok. In that sense it’s the perfect topic for a pop song. It defies explication. It makes about as much sense as being shot off a lamppost and waking up grinning.

There have been a lot of music videos this year that address the problems of racist policing. Some are gleefully over-simplistic (U Mad), some shoot for nuance and don’t quite reach it (Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)). None place their subject at the center of the problem and focus their gaze on that subject quite so elegantly as Alright. Alright  isn’t a song about police, or urban policy, or racism:  it’s about being surviving. Colin Tilley’s video isn’t about police shootings, or riots, or California urban reform:  it’s about Kendrick. The racism, the violence, the politics are all there, but they’re just the setting. The subject is Kendrick, and he’s interacting with his setting in the most Colin Tilley way possible:  totally present but too post-postmodern to care. He’s living in a dream world, but its still our world, neon-free bullets and all. He’s literally rising above it all without making any effort to leave. He’s here in the general fucked-up-ness of 21st century America, interacting with the immanent and touching the present, and he’s still transcendently alright. It’s not political, it’s not reductive, it doesn’t make sense,  but it still very much matters.

There were some major contenders for best video of the year this month, but it’s hard not to prematurely give it to this one. Colin Tilley has never been more sincere. Kendrick Lamar has never been less pretentious. Together I think they’re about as good for us as pop music can get. The conditions of our contemporary experience make it almost impossible to take anything too seriously,  but we can’t take that as an excuse not to care.