Kanye West’s new music video, “Famous,” isn’t a stirring piece of performance art, it’s a voyeuristic attention grab.
The song, which was already infamous for a line that took a swipe at his long-time frenemy Taylor Swift (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why, I made that bitch famous”) concluded with a bedroom scene including a nude Taylor Swift lookalike lying beside Kanye and a batch of other celebs — Kim Kardashian West, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Ray J, Amber Rose, George W. Bush, and Caitlyn Jenner, among others. Most (or all?) of the individuals captured in the final scene are reportedly wax lookalikes that were created just for the video to recreate a controversial piece of contemporary art.
The artist whose work directly inspired the bedroom scene in Kanye’s video wrote a glowing review lauding the rapper’s recreation of his controversial painting as a form of high art colliding with pop culture. That’s what we’re all supposed to think about “Famous” — that it’s a re-imagining of a higher form of art infused with the likenesses of those who influence pop culture, all to make a statement.
In a Facebook post, Lena Dunham criticized the video as being “emblematic of rape culture.” In her remarks, Dunham seems almost hesitant to call Kanye out for his video’s creepiness, for fear of missing the joke.
“I’m sure that Bill Cosby doll being in the bed alongside Donald Trump is some kind of statement, that I’m probably being trolled on a super high level,” she wrote. “I know that there’s a hipper or cooler reaction to have than the one I’m currently having. But guess what? I don’t have a hip cool reaction, because seeing a woman I love like Taylor Swift (fuck that one hurt to look at, I couldn’t look), a woman I admire like Rihanna or Anna, reduced to a pair of waxy breasts made by some special effects guy in the Valley, it makes me feel sad and unsafe and worried for the teenage girls who watch this and may not understand that grainy roving camera as the stuff of snuff films.”
But what if she isn’t being “trolled at a super high level?” What if the video is exactly what it appears to be — a voyeuristic ripoff of someone else’s artistic statement? What if it really is just a display of vulgarity devoid of artistic value for the sake of spurring attention and the money that will inevitably rake Kanye in? In that sense, it could be considered merely high-production-value porn.
The few surprised reactions from those depicted in the video and the fact that the celebrities are (probably) wax lookalikes implies they didn’t consent to their likenesses being used in a sexually explicit video. While the real Taylor Swift was not forced to participate in a sexual act, her likeness was used in these sexually graphic scenes without her consent. The cameo appearance of alleged serial sexual predator Bill Cosby, as well as Rihanna shown lying next to her abusive ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, adds a layer of squeamishness to the whole thing. No matter how you slice it, the video makes light of and even seems to condone sexual abuse.
It’s not surprising that known attention whore and resident crazy person Kanye West would make a super-creepy and disgusting video. What is truly remarkable is the level of participation from others involved in the project. According to Kanye, his wife Kim was on board, as was a team of people who collaborated in the video’s production. Before debuting the video on Friday, Kanye said he showed the video to some celebrity friends who also seemed to like it and want in on it.
If Kanye’s not just playing us for fools, it’s alarming that a very large number of presumably high-powered individuals were not only aware of the project and voiced no objections nor tried to stop him, but actively encouraged it. It would imply that oh-so-progressive Hollywood is a hotbed of voyeuristic creeps. Shocker.
The video suggests one of two things: either the celebrities are sleeping together after having consensually participated in an orgy, or some of the participants were drugged and forced to participate without their consent and remain passed out in a drug-induced stupor.
This wasn’t enough for Kanye, either. He’s been taunting the celebrities whose likenesses he used (presumably without consent) to come after him in court. I hope they do, as the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of celebrities whose images were used for commercial gain without prior consent. Were Kanye to find himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit, he may be up a creek without a paddle, legally speaking.
Kanye’s latest work isn’t an artistic product of genius-level trolling, it’s the manic work of a browbeater itching for a fight by violating a group of individuals in a very personal and grotesque way, then taunting them about it afterwards. Kanye isn’t a visionary, he’s just a bully, and “Famous” doesn’t deserve admiration or artistic scrutiny, but condemnation and abhorrence.