Iconoclast rapper Kanye West blared the problematic siren late Friday with the Tidal premiere of his “Famous” video. Inspired by American artist Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep,” the clip recreates the painting with modern, naked celebrities cloaked in white sheets.
A rundown of your featured, naked players: Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Ray J, Amber Rose, Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby, Chris Brown, and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. (All celebrities with whom West has engaged in controversial dust-ups.)
— Brando (@Brandizzy) June 25, 2016
The 10-minute clip premiered for a crowd of 8,000 Friday evening at the L.A. Forum, who certainly weren’t expecting such an explicit offering. The video features uncomfortably close zooms and pans devoid of music—just grunts from slumbering, snoring celebs—putting an awkward spin on a high profile event.
As West told Vanity Fair on Friday night, “It’s not in support or anti any of [the people in the video],” West said. “It’s a comment on fame… We were very careful with shots that had [something] sexual to take them out.”
Still, seeing Swift—to say nothing of alleged serial rapist Cosby—laying passively next to West like a conquered romantic partner is jarringly harsh. “Famous” already features the line “Me and Taylor might still have sex… I made that bitch famous.”
Her celebrity profile is aggressively curated and so image conscious that her work boasts filters of reverse-engineered calculus; but she’s also been dragged into a rap hive of malicious tweets for almost seven years. For West, fame is a cheap and mean game.
West said the clip took three months to film and that it went through four different versions.
It’s the latest slab of Twitter-seizing pop from West’s seventh solo album The Life of Pablo. While the album has been under construction since its February release—subject to lyric tweaks, new mixes, and one great new song—”Famous” anchors its opening suite. It’s track No. 4, preceded on the record by the gospel catharsis of “Ultralight Beam”; optimistic, chipmunk-soul morning views of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”; and street-sweeping remix heat of “Pt. 2.” The song deploys Swizz Beatz and Rihanna as minimalist, urgent collaborators while leaning on a generously portioned sample of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” for its reprise.
For an artist who has recorded six comprehensive, surgical mission statements, the Abbey Road-esque open to Pablo is a career apex. Thanks to the video for “Famous,” it has the controversial visual piece it needs to live forever.