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Kanye was right (and rhetorical questions)

September 14, 2009

Most appropriate photo I've ever found for a post

What Yeezy did was pretty dumb. But what he said? Let’s be honest — he was dead on.

Have you seen the Taylor Swift video? It’s pretty much every teenage pop video ever made. Nobody will ever talk about it (besides that Kanye West smacked it down). Nobody will remember it. The same could probably be said about the song itself.

Conversely, the Beyonce video exploded into a pop-cultural phenomenon. Spoofed on SNL and across the internet, the video for Single Ladies is actually an impressive piece of art, from direction to lighting, concept to choreography. How many hip-hop videos can get away with “let’s have the artist just sing and dance in an empty room”? Yet this works. It’s captivating. People will remember it for years to come for one reason or another.

As for Kanye…

Yes, he’s one of the most egotistical douche bags on the planet. Yes, the VMA’s are not about art and merit as much as they are a buffet of marketing opportunities for people and products in partnership with Viacom.

But if Kanye’s crime is taking a music video award show too seriously, I cannot hold him in contempt for his actions.

Aren’t music video’s arguably the most ubiquitous and influential medium in our culture; certainly among the youth demographic? Couldn’t it be argued that will-i-am’s “Yes We Can” Obama music video played a more pivotal role in the president’s election than any of his campaign ads? Isn’t the pacing and editorial styling of music videos more evident in today’s movies, advertising and television than ever before? Aren’t music videos… important?

Moreover, if people are going to argue that the MTV Awards don’t really matter, then why was Taylor Swift so elated to win in the first place? Obviously it meant a lot to her. As it should. More than a handful of today’s most popular film makers got their start in music videos. From neophyte Marc Webb to blockbuster badass Michael Bay, all the way down to indie darlings Spike Jonze (who won a retroactive moon man this year, fittingly) and Michel Gondry. The people who actually make music videos take pride in them. Artists who depend on them take them seriously.

In fact, in an interview with last year, Gondry shared this enlightening quote:

You know, to tell you the truth, in 2000 they did the “100 Best Videos” on MTV and VH-1 – at the same time. And none of them had one of my videos. None of mine were selected. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, in the sense that these videos can be discovered years after. But I got frustrated because I felt I had achieved some sort of success with them. Except at the very beginning of MTV, the videos were regarded as their own entity. They got very quickly mixed up with the song; they would very rarely be about the directing.

I think what Kanye did was crazy, but deep down, even if it wasn’t intentional, the point he ended up making actually resonated a lot with me. Maybe Taylor Swift was getting a pity award because Beyonce won best video. Maybe it was a publicity stunt.

Either way, the end may not justify the means. But as surely we’ve all learned at one time or another in our lives: sometimes, assholes are just right.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jeflee permalink*
    September 14, 2009 2:15 am

    *comment edited for too longy-ness*

    ‘Pity Award’ may be a little strong for my tastes, but yeah. It’s the same as when the Academy gives an award for Best Screenplay or Best Director but then another film takes Best Picture. It is what it is, and what it is isn’t that serious.

    Kanye’s been in some great some videos and he blogs frequently about design and aesthetics. But he also blogs LIKE THISSS!!!, and he directed one of the laziest, most disappointing and offensive videos of the year. If he really wants to advance the discussion on music videos as pop art, he has a funny way of going about it.

    • Simon permalink*
      September 14, 2009 4:45 am

      Great find. I think I personally accredit a sightly less to Kanye’s sensibilities than that post does. In my mind, this is more a classic case of a broken clock being right twice a day, not a bleeding heart running rampant.

  2. September 14, 2009 2:11 pm

    Great post Simon. I took it literally and felt really bad for Taylor Swift. Still the whole show left me feeling really uneasy. The cult of celebrity has really taken over. I think it all came together when I saw Jay-Z’s cavalcade rolling through the Manhattan streets. It was kind of…masonic… okay, not in the super covert way, but just in that big business-duping-the-everyman kind of way.

    Also, this is a great, more political piece that’s related:
    The Phony Corporate Sponsored Disruptions and Outbursts of Kanye West and Joe Wilson

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