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A JOURNEY THROUGH ☆ FAMOUS ☆ BY ♫ ‘KANYE WEST’ ♫

A twilit bedroom. Silence. Ceiling view of the base of a hyper-extended bed—the length of a catwalk. Slow pan of ruffled bedsheets in close-up—magnified sheets like an Arctic mountain range. Shitty camera quality—that of CCTV or a sex tape, colours drained. Zoom out. Slow tracking shot reveals one by one, as in a Tarkovsky film, a series of sleeping faces—silent apparitions of celebrities—Taylor Swift—Kanye West—Kim Kardashian—eyelids shut, lips loose, mouths ajar—a slumbering parade of pop royalty—not in their usual livery but nude—trashily nude—classically nude. Most of the body parts—arms and torsos and necks—are purpled with tattoos. Most of the nipples—black or pink—are pierced. A pink Caucasian cunt in extreme close-up. Blackout.

 

At once both superficial and deep,’ a man’s voice intones—Kanye West’s. We fade up on Kanye, wearing a silver jacket, sat in a swivel chair at a mixing desk being interviewed by journalist Zane Lowe. ‘Both deep as a canyon and superficial as a razor blade,’ Kanye says, eyes wild, head dipped. ‘So, you think you’re pushing the boat out?’ Lowe asks. ‘I’ve reached a point in my life,’ Kanye answers loudly—as drums begin a 4/4 beat—’where my Truman Show boat has hit the painting.’ Freeze-frame close-up of Kanye’s face, mouth agape—an oil painting filter is now applied to Kanye’s facial image—bass drum and hi-hat kicking—and now all at once a synthetic accordion and descant recorder come in doubling a jaunty melody—the freeze-frame of Kanye’s face cuts for a split-second to an image of Freddy Kruger—then black—and Kanye’s rap enters:

 

For all my Southside niggas that know me best

I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex

Why? I made that bitch famous

 

A glittering legend flashes up on the screen:

 

FAMOUS BY  ‘KANYE WEST 

 

 

Shoulder to shoulder, half concealed by the sheets, half revealed by the sheets, in that enormous bed they lie, the celebrity bodies in Kanye West’s ‘Famous’ video. And lie in more senses than one, all the bodies being at once hyper-real and hyper-fake, seemingly real yet actually prosthetic. But, once become an image, isn’t everything real? At the centre lies the golden couple Kanye and wife Kim Kardashian. Kardashian’s enormous ass is a glory, a tantalising booty for our pirate eyes. Radiating outward from the golden couple in a golden spiral lie the other dozing icons—the full list, from left to right, being: George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Elton John, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian-West, Ray J, Colonel Gaddafi, Amber Rose, Mao Zedong, Paul McCartney, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. The neo-classical composition explicitly recalls Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

 

Those viewing ‘Famous’ expecting a mass-masturbation-inciting peepshow will be bewildered to find it not at all arousing but, in fact, unnerving—Poe-esque, even, as if West were taking up that dipsomaniac Bostonian’s famous refrain, ‘Midnight! Unmask! Unmask!’ High art comparisons are by no means pie in the sky. In an essay for W Magazine, artist Vincent Desiderio called West’s video ‘a tableau, in every sense of the word, that’s at one and the same time disturbingly familiar, rapturously beautiful and frighteningly uncanny’. In interviews Kanye cuts a pensive figure, and his observations dash any facile stereotypes of lamebrain rappers who don’t know their Fichte from their Feuerbach. ‘It’s funny how so many people who are supposed to be so educated,’ he tells Lowe, ‘are so willing to pick the lowest hanging fruit—the concept of fame and celebrity—as a way to diminish or take away the validation of what has been done up to this point, what is being done now, and what will be done in the future.’ In ‘Famous’ West serves up in an explosive cup of musical coffee the vapour that is Western culture c. 2016.

 

 

The title FAMOUS now vanishes and we fade up again on the twilit bedroom, music pumping. Sideways shot of Ghandi’s earlobes, the white bedsheets simulating his usual white habit. In the background Chris Brown’s neck tattoo, a woman’s black-eyed, lip-busted face. Cut to Colonel Gaddafi’s haggard features— pink and swollen—dead, as per the gone-viral video of his corpse being dragged around Tripoli. At this the beats cut and, as the Rihanna-sung chorus kicks in, we get a shot of Rihanna’s sweaty unshaven armpit:

 

I just wanted you to know

I loved you better than your own kin did…

 

Shots of Jimmy Savile and Colonel Gaddafi’s heads now alternate—we rapidly cross-cut from Savile to Gaddafi in the manner of a strobe light. Zoom in and out on Bill Cosby’s sleep-erect cock—Black phallus sporting a Prince Albert. Then a fast pan to Elton John’s drool-glistening chin—Elton being barely recognisable sans wig—as Kanye’s voice comes in with another verse:

 

For all the girls that got dick from Kanye West

If you see ‘em in the streets give ‘em Kanye’s best

 

Alternating shots of the sleeping faces of Taylor Swift and Mother Teresa and Caitlyn Jenner and Mao Zedong—before the screen divides into four and these four celebrities’ sleeping heads rotate around slowly in clockwise motion, like swirling postage stamps on a mini Ferris wheel. Extreme close-up of Mao Zedong’s hairy nostrils. Mao’s face changes colours kaleidoscopically à la the Warhol screen-print. 4 x Mao’s head.

 

Then the music cuts out.

 

Sound of sleeping breathing bodies. Lip-smack and saliva slurp. Lingering shot of Taylor Swift’s naked back, shoulder blades bobbing with respiration. Bill Cosby’s grey stubble and paunch. Assortment of anonymous nipples. Snuffles, wheezing. Traffic hissing past. Novelty car horn somewhere off in the distance. Milkman’s shadow at the window, cheerful whistling, clink of bottles. Multiple snores, in and out of phase, a nocturnal polyphony. Whimpers—someone having a nightmare. Close-up of Donald Trump’s head in profile, yellow sheen of hair—inevitably now appearing presidential, and somehow, too, tender and beautiful, peaceful and baby-like. Lingering Trump-shot—ruddy-cheeked face-shot—as we hear a fart—a loud, prolonged, wet fart.

 

 

Brief Interlude: A Kanye West Sexmusic Timeline

 

2005: Video for single ‘Drive Slow’

Kanye and Jay Z sit rapping in the front of a 1987 blue Ford Fiesta whilst outside a giant teddy bear with not one but two erect penises has sex with the exhaust pipe, causing the car interior to fill with toxic smoke.

 

2007: Video for single ‘Good Morning’

Kanye ballroom dances with a tiny nude Minnie Mouse in front of a video wall intermixing screens showing male and female nipples repeatedly being flicked and screens showing light switches being turned on and off.

 

2010: Cover of album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Painting of Kanye being given a foot job by a deformed white-skinned angel with both arms amputated.

 

2016: Video for single ‘Famous’

Pantheon of celebrities lie naked together in a bed with Kanye in the centre. Sgt. Pepper’s for the Pornhub Age. Cosmic marriage of heaven and hell, of scatology and eschatology.

 

 

Beginning of psychedelic sequence. Before we left off, Kanye had rapped about ‘girls getting dick from Kanye West’ and then, over a shot of Donald Trump’s placid face, the unmistakeable sound of flatulence resounded. Now, as we zoom in below Trump’s rump, what at first sight appears to be a skid mark on the sheets—in layman’s terms, a shit stain—is revealed upon magnification as not in fact stationary but motive—shit is leaking from Trump’s ass, yellow diarrhoea from Trump’s back passage. At great magnitude Trump’s miniscule emission has the appearance of a slow-moving yellowy glacier in the Arctic snowscape of the bed. Jump-cut to a swift montage of scenes from the cult 1979 movie The Warriors­—bandanna’d denim-clad young hoodlums battling it out on the dark streets of New York City—then we cut back to Trump’s big dozing head—the not-so-subliminal suggestion being that Trump, having grown up in NYC in an era when the city was literally a warzone, must a priori be acquainted with mano a mano sodomy—the difference between now and then being that, having now entered his senescence, the age of bodily malfunction, the homosexual act that has evidently just been performed has left Trump in a state of involuntary incontinence. Quel dommage. Trump is, as goes without saying, a friend to few, but one can’t help feeling for the innocent Elton John, snuggled up oblivious on this shore of shit, this faecal puddle, this chicken korma-resembling spill—who is soon to encounter a rude awakening. Cut to shot of Kanye—in his sleep he seems to be smiling. Is Kanye here admitting to being a ‘shit stirrer’?

 

Freeze-frame of Kanye’s head and chest over a mat black background—head dipped back, eyes closed—white t-shirt—gold chain—broad smile—gleaming teeth, enamel rainbow—face and clothes slowly fade—to leave just the teeth—the white teeth clenched tight, hovering over the mat black background—teeth vibrating—becoming animal—more and more animal—a Cheshire cat—till eventually the top jaw floats off out of the screen—and now a small picture of Donald Trump appears in the top right-hand corner—suited, scowling—red curtain falls.

 

 

Fade-up. A vast floodlit warehouse. Sound of synthetic woodwinds—oboes, bassoons—segment focused on the woodwind technique of circular breathing. Throughout ‘Famous’ a descant recorder, run through Kanye’s vocoder, has doubled Kanye’s vocals. That now expands into an entire glorious euphonious woodwind section, the ensemble sonority surpassing even the renowned acoustics of the King’s College Cambridge Chapel. On a platform in the middle of this vast floodlit warehouse Kanye stands, decked out in an Adidas tracksuit, a shiny black B♭ clarinet clasped in his hands, ringed fingers depressing the keys. Slowly Kanye lifts his head, lifts the clarinet, takes a deep breath and commences to play a continuous low F#— astonishingly he holds the note continuously for fifty seconds or so—continuous shot of blowing Kanye with no cuts—sweat streaming down Kanye’s forehead—spittle dripping from the clarinet’s bell—a feat Kanye achieves through a bravura act of circular breathing—whilst at the same time Kanye dances, jumping up and down on the spot with the clarinet held aloft to a backing of distorted beats and synthetic winds and whilst, as we now see, to his right and left a dance troupe comprising tuxedoed Black men with recorders run on variable-speed travellators. Flanked by these travellator dancers, who one by one over the fifty seconds fall and are whisked away, Kanye keeps jumping up and down on the spot, all the while holding the epic F#. Lyrics flash up on the screen, with a black sing-a-long bouncing ball:

 

Cause the same people that tried to blackball me

Forget about two things: my black balls

 

Explosion, ticker-tape. Close-up of two black snooker balls rolling down the travellators under strobe lighting. Kanye dramatically breaks off, panting.

 

In slow-mo Kanye throws the clarinet triumphantly into the air—the screen follows the spinning black form—then a match cut à la Kubrick’s 2001 to Jimmy Savile’s long cigar—the clarinet becomes a cigar—Savile’s face in close-up glares at the camera—before a camera pull-back reveals a black-clad ISIS militant in the desert holding Savile’s glaring decapitated head aloft by its white straggly hair—cigar jammed in mouth—pool of blood below on the sand.

 

 

Entire cast returns, a big ensemble piece. No longer in bed but out and about. All standing around in an alleyway at night, under orange streetlight glow—all with wet feet, in puddles—Trump and Bush and Cosby in Brioni suits—Rihanna and Kardashian and Wintour in Givenchy dresses—heads uniformly thrown back in laughter, backs being slapped—rats scuttling along the wet ground, teeth bared—cockroaches. A dance routine is attempted, but it’s uncoordinated and looks bad. Bush and Trump hold respectively a saxophone and clarinet and are badly miming with them. Taylor Swift jumps out in front and starts gyrating gracelessly. Still, it’s impressive—this is hardly the pop music we were brought up with—it’s an alien-expounding art under the guise of pop music—a mutant pop, a viral mutation of pop that modifies the sense of pop and makes all of pop by proxy something unpopular, strange and dangerous—as if pop were somehow possessed by a malignant alien spirit. And all the while the ensemble put their feet into puddles and then take them out of puddles again—as if to say: What are we stepping into? and: What are we stepping out of? Hands wave. Shot of a black shiny Gucci shoe—in puddle—out of puddle. A rat. Screen goes black.

 

 

Rematerialisation of earlier sequence of Kanye’s mouth and teeth over a black background—only now slowly animated—a computerised version of Kanye’s lips mouthing unheard words—a virtual reality Kanye—those animated lips begin to merge with the ovoid spectre of Trump’s asshole—lips of the singer—ass of the President—over and back, one and the other—lips, ass—beginning to meet in a union—a kiss—a duet—a pas de deux—before a celestial explosion of stars—and now a match cut—a lasso swirling in the air—a cowboy’s neat circle of rope rotating in front of a blue sky—camera zooms out to show George W. Bush stood wearing a grey suit, wielding the lasso—close-up of Bush’s smiling countenance—Bush winks deliberately at the camera—now Bush’s face mutates—he turns into an actual bush—leaves, flowers, bees—a blooming green bush—then this mutates—into a close-up of female pubic hair—curly black pubes—and now George W. Bush’s smiling face again—and now the leaves—now the pubes—round and around—like the very lasso itself—swirling Trump’s celestial ass in the background. Black.

 

 

Daylight. Standing on a cloud, lyre in hand, wearing a white robe and a glue-and-tinsel clothes-hanger halo, Kanye solemnly recites:

 

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above

Those that I fight I do not hate

They motherfuckers—need my love

Brooding Kanye slowly puts a red commedia dell’arte mask in front of his face. At this, way off in the distance on another cloud, Trump appears in the threshold of a doorway, a dark expression on his face. Since Trump already looks like a man dressed up as Trump, it’s hard for us to tell whether this is actually Trump or not, if that distinction even has any meaning anymore. Trump, stood erect in this doorway in the clouds, takes a pint of milk from his pocket. He drinks the pint of milk down in one go, then bellows in laughter, with a glistening white milk moustache.  His laughter rings across the skies. Shot of sweat beads on Kanye’s forehead. Trump shoots upwards. The sky turns dark.

 

Apocalyptic denouement. Trump, enormous, drifts into the furthest heavens—sky like a vast oil painting, purple and gold and red—the already gargantuan Trump now becomes a monstrous leviathan and a piercing centre of light—a singularity—opens up in his ass—vision as in Vasari’s Last Judgment with its central node of skylight—and everyone, all the celebrities, Jenner and Swift and Cosby and Stockhausen and Rihanna and Savile and Kardashian, start floating into the sky, drawn towards the vortex of Trump’s ass—a sort of spiral radiance like a grid on which everyone levitating travels, in ascension, into Trump’s glaring luminous rectal cavity. But now Kanye through a vocoder starts singing: ‘I’m getting bigger!’ And everyone else sings in response: ‘We’re getting smaller!’ And this call-and-response repeats over and over, growing more and more emphatic. And, save the apotheosised Trump in the farthest empyrean, all float—Taylor Swift with her microphone—Caitlyn Jenner with her handbag—Jimmy Savile in his tracksuit—into the blood-red evening earthly sky—the very evening of man—Berühmtheitendämmerung. At the force of Kanye’s emphatic vocoder words Trump finally begins to deflate and disappear. And within the striking tableau Kanye gets bigger and bigger. And the bigger Kanye gets, the smaller everyone else becomes. And by becoming bigger in the present, Kanye also becomes smaller in the past. And this cannot but affect our perception of the ‘Famous’ video and its true meaning—since by getting bigger now Kanye reveals to us that in all the preceding scenes of the video he was, in fact, inordinately small, bordering on the infinitesimal. And retroactively this completely alters the meaning of all of Kanye’s music and all of Kanye’s lyrics and many other earthly words besides. And with that the spell is broken.

 

 

Close-up of Kanye’s face with eyes closed—camera slowly zooms back, as Kanye’s eyelids open, to show he is lying on a long red Divan in his home as behind him daylight streams in the bay windows. Evidently it was all just a dream. Kanye stirs and rubs his eyes and smiles, and then takes a pint glass of milk from the windowsill and drinks it all down in one go. Then he laughs to himself, slapping his bluejeaned thigh. His children run into the room excitedly and embrace him—Daddy!—then Kim Kardashian walks in with a knowing grin. On the wall behind her is a framed poster for The Cosby Show.

 

Cut to the bedroom one last time. A rousing, rip-roaring finale. Everyone is now standing up together and singing, arms around each other’s shoulders, glancing around, laughing and smiling. Sample of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. In a late twist it is revealed that all this time the bedroom has in fact been a stage set contained inside a trailer that is being driven around by a lorry. In slow motion the lorry dumps what is clearly a little model version of the bedroom into an enormous landfill. ‘Famous’ ends on a wholesome note with a montage of intimate domestic scenes showing the Kardashian-Wests in their family home sitting around the kitchen table, eating liberally from a big pile of mangos, pears, pineapples, pomegranate, cherries and cucumber, along with slices of salmon, halibut and herring. Close-up of a cartoon lobster, winking. Lingering shot on an empty jar of chicken Korma. Trump standing in the doorway smiling, waving—he makes an ‘A-OK’ sign—the disappears. Flashing red-blue-green-pink head of Mao Zedong. More food shots—a basket full of rotten clementines. All this as if to say: Life is one big banquet. Slow fade to black.

 

 

Kanye’s voice from earlier, echoing: ‘I’ve reached a point in my life where my Truman Show boat has hit the painting.’

 

Fade up. Kanye again in his silver jacket sat at the mixing desk being interviewed. Studio lights flickering, fading. ‘Deep in the most superficial way,’ Zane Lowe nods, ‘amazing.’ Kanye puts on his white-framed shades. ‘Zane, remember, like, you’d see futuristic movies and everything was in the sky? Well, that’s the internet! That’s what it is! Our sky! Our future sky! We didn’t get flying cars, but I’m gonna take music and make it three-dimensional, like in Star Wars, and the hologram will pop up out of R2-D2! I’m gonna make music that jumps out—that doesn’t just sound but is.’ Kanye stares at the floor as the lights in the studio go out. He and Zane Lowe sit in darkness. Dim light from a vending machine. Shot holds for about thirty seconds before unprovoked, still holding the same pose, Kanye topples out of the chair onto the floor.

 



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is from Donegal. His fiction has been published in Gorse and The Moth and read on RTÉ Radio 1. Recent academic publications include a chapter on Irish art music since 2000 for The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916-2016, and forthcoming publications include chapters in The Routledge Research Companion to Modernism in Music and The Oxford Handbook of Spectral Music. He is a regular contributor to Gramophone and is co-founder of the podcast Talking Musicology, which was recently nominated for a Classical:NEXT Innovation award. 'A Journey Through ☆ Famous ☆ by ♫ “Kanye West” ♫' was shortlisted for the 2017 White Review Short Story Prize (UK & Ireland).