God Dream

God Dream

God Dream

God Dream

by Ben Tuthill

1080p

1080p

1080p

1080p

KANYE / WEST / KANYE

KANYE / WEST / KANYE

KANYE / WEST / KANYE

THE FACT THAT KANYE WEST
THE FACT THAT KANYE WEST

The fact that Kanye West releases have earned their own season speaks to the oversaturated cult of their creator. The Life of Pablo is a phenomenal album in its own right, but it’s less a success of songcraft than it is a testament of its own event. With 2011’s inaugural Yeezy Season we saw the overshadowing of the release by its promotion. With Yeezy Season Three we saw its complete obliteration. As of writing this, it’s unclear if the album I’ve been listening to for the past three days on repeat is even the actual TLOP.

Kanye West is the pop music manifestation of the 2008 financial crisis, too big to fail and well beyond the aid of label intervention. He’s beyond release dates, beyond subway ads, beyond spokespeople. He’s also largely beyond music videos. This last point is particularly telling. The excellent promotional single music video is a 21st-century standard, and it’s surprising that a megalomaniacal polymath like Kanye has so consistently failed to deliver on such an ego-expanding device.

Kanye has offered us six of the best albums of the new millennium, an armful of its best songs, most of its best award show speeches (consensual or otherwise), and its cutest celebrity infant. But he’s given us none of its best videos. His only truly great video in the ordinary sense is Otis, which is really more of a Jay Z project than a Kanye contribution. With the exception of the high-budget Touch the Sky there’s little to say about his pre-Taylorgate visual ouevre. The MBDTF era gave us two notable innovations, the 1:30 portrait-style Power and the feature-length Runaway. The former was gaudy and the latter was bloated (hardly points of criticism in Kanye-world), but neither of have provided particularly lasting images beyond Runaway‘s memorable ballet scene. Kanye’s next three projects yielded similarly forgettable clips – Mercy three years later feels stilted, No Church in the Wild rings false against Throne’s corporate opulence, Black Skinhead is arguably the dumbest thing he’s ever made.

Instead what he have to remember Kanye by are his performances of himself. This is significant in an era that celebrates immaculate regimentation. Unlike his most adored peers, Kanye works best when he has room to spew himself, and that fits best on the unrestricted expanses of Twitter, stadium stages, and irl outbursts. He’s probably the only artist who’s truly mastered the SNL performance: the militant minimalism of the Yeezus singles, last year’s horrifying Jesus Walks (particularly unsettling in light of his angelic rendition of the same song at his first Grammy performance), the exuberantly silly TLOP prelude. He’s a master of self-spectacularization, and he knows better than anyone how to claim his moments of high visibility. It’s notable that the only video for All Day is an edited version of that song’s BRIT Awards performance: no music video could top it (not even Vic Mensa’s attempt to duplicate it a few weeks later). The same goes for Niggas In Paris, maybe the only contemporary pop song whose live reputation exceeds its already infinite replay-ability.

This is hardly surprising. When you have as much *you* going on as Kanye, compressing your presence into a four-minute affect is all but impossible. Most pop stars rely on music videos to build and convey their personas. Arena shows are impersonal, interviews are uncomfortable, social media is vague and constructed, and most people don’t have the star power to make them their own. Music videos provide the opportunity to create a connection between fan and star, an intimate encounter with an idolized persona. Kanye West is the opposite: he’s the only pop star who’s discomfort in music videos increases his self-communication. He needs the un-zoned space of reality to manifest himself, and he has the unique ability to actually fill it. There’s too much Kanye to cram into 1080p.

If there’s any Kanye video worth talking about, it’s Bound 2, which fails as a music video but is maybe Kanye’s greatest contribution to contemporary art. By all standards it’s a terrible video. The absurdity of its content -the union of the 21st century’s greatest trans-fetishizable idols, halfway between the birth of their daughter and the day of their wedding- far exceeds the potential of audiovisual reification, and Bound 2 fails beyond belief. Jerry Saltz for Vulture called it “the new uncanny”, a mode in which stars “reveal how out-of-touch they are (…) a freakish act of creation and destruction by appropriation”. Bound 2 is the New Uncanny par excellence. It sets out to capture the impossible and comes nowhere close. It transforms failure into revelation.

The spectacular failure of forms is maybe the overarching narrative of Kanye’s career. With every album his life-as-project grows beyond the capacity of his works. With The Life of Pablo he may have finally exploded his native art form. He’s developed a project that’s too big for editing, too big to be contained by anything but the increasingly tremulous boundaries of his outsized life. Anything that might direct your encounter to him -music videos, logic, albums- has long been broken. But if you’re cued into pop culture, it’s all but impossible to escape him. His self-apotheosis isn’t so far off point. He’s created intimacy simply by virtue of taking up all the available space.

KANYE.

KANYE.