Kanye West Explores Society's Flawed Perception of Fame and the Common Man

An in-depth recap and explanation of Kanye West’s “Famous” music video.

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Last night, Kanye West shutdown LA’s The Forum, with a special, back to back premiere of the visual for his latest single “Famous.” Following Kim Kardashian’s suggestive comments in her cover story for the latest issue of GQ, coupled with the mystique surrounding the project’s unveiling, anticipation was surely at an all-time high. Fans were invited to purchase tickets and enjoy a live experience of the world premiere, a call to action that only a handful of artists can successfully deploy at a magnitude that could rival last night’s turn out for Mr. West. To supplement the music video, DONDA designed limited edition tees that were sold on-site, essentially commemorating another noteworthy moment in Kanye’s Pablo era, and effectively uniting Kanye’s stronghold of music and fashion.

“Famous” was inspired by American realist painter Vincent Desiderio’s 2008 piece Sleep. Desiderio’s (who attended the LA premiere alongside the West/Jenner family and a full entourage of musicians including Rick Rubin, Travis Scott, 2Chainz, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, Yo Gotti, Quavo, Tyga, Desiigner and The Game) original work depicts a group of nude strangers, sprawled alongside one another on a massive bed, yet ostensibly unaware of each other’s presence. The piece encourages introspective reflection through the expressed message of realizing we are in fact children. By being stripped of their lavishness, or lack of, and being reduced to only their flesh, every onlooker is reminded that collectively, we are all human; nothing more, and nothing less.

Although the Taylor Swift line is surely the gravitational point of the single, it is imperative to realize that “Famous” was written as an anthem for the common man.

Kanye sought to transfer this perspective and underlying sentiment to his visual “Famous.” Although the Taylor Swift line is surely the gravitational point of the single, it is imperative to realize that “Famous” was written as an anthem for the common man. Those living in the hood; the student studying to be a real estate agent, and the Puerto Rican day parade partier are in fact the main subjects of the song. Kanye’s approach to recapturing the song’s core through Desiderio’s eyes was to use the likeness of the “demi-gods” within today’s pop culture realm (himself, Kim Kardashian, Anna Wintour, George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Ray J, Amber Rose, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Bill Cosby and Caitlyn Jenner) and shoot their naked bodies, as they slept on a bed with proportions that seemingly ran off-screen. The video’s lo-fi aesthetic can be likened to night vision through a VHS camera, further giving off the impression that the viewer has evaded a private space. However, this prying awareness is juxtaposed with the revelation at hand, which is we are witnessing these subjects peacefully asleep. In correlation with the song’s lyrical content, Kanye pushes the viewer to look past the initial shock and into the deeper narrative. Society has raised the depicted celebrities to heights that are simply larger than life, while continuing to fabricate narratives and associations that in our heads justify and validate our fascination with their lives.

A suggestive narrative within both bodies of work is that of sexualization, but let it be noted, no sexual acts are performed. Mr. West has utilized this tension to metaphorically represent the strain between the narratives society has created for the “mythological beings” of Hollywood and the conscious understanding that we are all children. “Famous” is an appeal to the common man to realize the pop culture figures we label as “famous,” are still human. The video concludes with a hyper realist tableau of the group, in identical fashion as Desiderio’s “Sleep” painting, solidifying the bond between both pieces of work.

“Famous” is an appeal to the common man to realize the pop culture figures we label as “famous,” are still human.

Mania ensued when bins full of restocked T-shirts were rolled down to the merchandise area after initially selling out, in unison with chants of “Pablo, Pablo!” The final question that remains is whether these supporters approving shouts will drown the critics who will assemble and vocalize their disapproval in the coming days. Regardless of the public’s feedback, Kanye has once again united his infatuation with art, music and fashion, and packaged this through a medium that will send shock waves throughout culture.

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