There’s nothing Kanye West won’t try. If it speaks to him as an artist, if he feels it’s important to the conversation, if he wants everyone to pay attention, Kanye isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to accomplish that task. In that tradition, this past weekend Kanye West unveiled his most ambitious project to date. After premiering at screenings around the world, Kanye released his greatly anticipated long form music video, Runaway, on MTV, MTV2, and BET this past weekend. The story is of a phoenix (portrayed by breakout star and former Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks) who falls to the earth, and falls in love with Kanye, only to realize that she cannot bear the close-minded nature of this planet, and must return in flames to her own world.
It is as heady as it sounds. Though cinematically beautiful, the short film is wrought with metaphors that can feel equally forced and confusing. Is it about Amber Rose? His Ex-fiance? His career? According to Kanye, you can mark it as all of the above.
The phoenix is a mythical creature that is reborn through fire (and symbolically adversity) and similar to the phoenix in his film, this production signifies the rebirth of his career. In his very first line in the video, Kanye makes it very clear that the “first rule in this world, baby, don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news.” This video is his press release, his statement of how he feels like the misfit in the world of entertainment.
This was an ambitious project for Kanye, especially given his rocky 2009. Add that to this being his directorial debut, and citing Stanley Kubrick and Frederico Fellini as inspirations, and its tempting to write this off as another one of Kanye’s ego rampages. He has a habit of taking himself more seriously than the rest of the world, and yet somewhere along his persistent path of self-confidence, we begin to take him seriously too.
Whether or not you like (or understand, for that matter) Kanye’s video, you have to admire his fearlessness. In a world of conformists, Kanye has always been outspokenly unique. No doubt this lack of inhibition and self-censorship has hurt him in more ways than one, but it’s also defined his career and made him one of the most interesting artists of his generation. While most people hide behind publicists and rehab, Kanye has always been unabashedly upfront about working out his issues on the worlds stage. He is a man wrought with contradictions, easily misunderstood, but doggedly determined to have his say in his way.
Celebrity has been the gift and the curse for Kanye. We’ve seen him go through a lot, and laughed and cringed with him along the way. The thing with Kanye is that it seems he never understood the package deal of being talented and famous. He wanted the recognition, but wasn’t ready for the insecurity that comes with fame. Im an artist, and a creator, turned into a celebrity, Kanye told MTV in an interview after his video premier.
In the music video, Kanye uses the alien phoenix as a means to communicate his frustrations with celebrity. Kanye begins to acclimate the phoenix to his world, and realizes that people aren’t as receptive as he is. They are critical and close-minded. The phoenix explains to Kanye, You know what I hate about your world? Anything that is different you try to change, you try to tear it down. This revelation causes her to burn and return to her home planet, in a sad ending that leaves Kanye alone.
And so Kanye deals with his own insecurity of being a phoenix in an industry of conformists. People will have their criticism of his work, and his process, but all he can do is become a better artist out of this adversity. Its a lonely existence, and unlike his phoenix there is no other world for him but here. However Kanye is learning how to exist beyond the naysayers and his insecurities. As he told MTV, “When I allow other peoples ideals to interfere with what I know is true to myself, that’s the devil.” It’s good to see him recognizing the demons, and I think we can all look forward to more interesting and challenging material from Mr. West.