Thursday, 7 October 2010

Kanye's Thriller Night

Kanye West has compared his self-directed 40-minute short film Runaway to the abstract works of Picasso and Matisse. What they would’ve made of this breathtakingly cornball fantasy is anyone’s guess, but I suspect that other giant of 20th-century art whose name kept cropping up at last night’s screening – in the Bafta HQ on Piccadilly, no less – Michael Jackson would’ve felt right at home among the UK urban celebs (Tinie, Chipmunk) and the dozens of St Martin’s art students, reputedly invited at Kanye’s suggestion to “make it look cool”.

“With Michael Jackson’s passing I felt a responsibility to create things for our generation, to be more inspirational and be better parents,” he says. “The lowest common denominator is all you see on TV, we need to use our power in a proper way.”

In Runaway’s case this means rescuing a half-dead phoenix – gorgeous and, happily, wearing as little by way of feathered clothing as daytime telly restrictions allow – coaxing her back to life with a lush garden, a sheep and the power of Kanye’s sampling skills, marrying her, arguing, promising “I’ll never let you burn”, and then watching her rise into the sky while running through the words to his horrible Autotuned take on Bon Iver’s Woods.

This is actually a rare reversion to 808s And Heartbreaks. For the most part the songs represent a return to the form of, if not College Dropout, then at least Graduation. Hard and raw in places, grandiose and orchestral in others, it mostly maintains the form of tracks like Monster and is evidence that Kanye’s new album may overcome its clunky title My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (whither Good-Ass Job?) and drag him back from the precipice he’s been gazing over for the last two years.

He touched on these problems (notably the fall-out from his embarrassing awards-show intervention) in the post-film Q&A. Sounding worryingly earnest in his claims of divine intervention, he seemed like a new, rather boring man, talking about his heroic resistance to record company pressure to do something commercial. He saw this as “the same shit Michael went through”, as if the man who made the most successful album of all time, and regularly phoned CBS boss Walter Yetnikoff at all hours of the day seeking reassurance that its successor would sell even more, was merely a disinterested passenger in his own global super-megastardom.

But beneath the waffle the old arrogant, ever-quotable Kanye was there. “This is gonna sound like the Kanye of three years ago, but do you know how creative I have to be to be me?” he said. And “I wish I had a billionaire to invest in me, ‘cos investing in me is investing in arts through all the three-year-olds I’m gonna inspire.” Then he got lost in a rant against the snobs of the fashion world, blaming Lindsay Lohan for his failure to successfully launch his own range. “Lohan’s collection was like the 9/11 for Arabians (sic) to celebrities [doing their own fashion line].”

And when, reflecting on the extended ballet dance that forms the latter half of the title track, he said “hip hop is like black semen – anything that connects with it becomes that”, it was good to have the old Kanye back. Sorry doesn’t suit him any more than surrealism. But if the film reeks of superstar self-indulgence the new album should make some amends for the horrors of Heartbreaks.


  1. great article steve, I've become increasingly torn between kanye between genius or genital, i think it's the former but he needs stronger people around him to help him self-censor
    hope all is well, long time

  2. Thanks Dan, good to see you round here. I think the new album will go a long way to undoing the damage (at least to my ears) done by 808s & Heartbreaks and remind us all that he is both a major talent and a risk-taker. But I do worry a bit about his state of mind - he's still cocky and witty like he was six years ago, but with this film he's essentially imitating the Michael Jackson of Earth Song – all fatuous overblown save-the-children, cruel-cruel-world guff – rather than Thriller or Off The Wall. All seems a long way from the bloke who wrote Spaceship. He's still got it though - anyone who writes an epic fuck-you like Runaway is at least in touch with his sense of humour.