Kanye West Dissects "Famous" For 'Vanity Fair'
Kanye West follows the shock and awe of the "Famous" video debut with an explanation of the creative direction for the clip in an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair. A riff on painter Vincent Desiderio's 2008 piece entitled Sleep, the video for The Life of Pablo LP standout was also inspired by the work of artist Matthew Barney - a man West refers to as his "personal Jesus." The result of three months of production, the video is punctuated by a shot that depicts West and his equally provocative wife Kim Kardashian lying nude alongside George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby. In that moment West's latest work appeals to the human propensity for voyeurism and arguably makes good on a previous claim that he and Kardashian's lives are "walking performance art." While Yeezy's work has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers plenty of times before, his decision to place twelve naked superstars in a bed together has definitely elevated the art of pushing the envelope and prompted more than a few questions.
How much of what appears in “Famous” is real? The video, which was filmed over a period of three months and cycled through four different formats and several different collaborators until West felt he’d achieved the result he wanted, leaves you guessing as to which of the celebrities are really playing themselves and which are presumably only there by the grace of some advanced prosthetic wizardry (will the real Taylor Swift please stand up?). Speaking from an L.A. editing suite where he was still obsessively recutting the film the day before its premiere—while also shooting a new scene involving Caitlyn Jenner and a purple Porsche—West was loath to divulge too much of what went on behind the curtain. For him, the ambiguity goes to the core of what he’s trying to say about the mythos of contemporary celebrity.
West has pushed the format of the music video before, most notably in 2010’s “Runaway,” the 35-minute-long mini-epic he made to showcase the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But, if you’ll excuse the expression, this is his most naked attempt to raise the music video to the level of an art piece. “Matthew Barney is my Jesus,” he said, referring to the artist known for his use of living sculptures in works like The Cremaster Cycle. (West was also directly inspired by the work of American realist painter Vincent Desiderio.) West’s video has some of the salacious trappings of a pop promo—the night-vision vibes; the presence of Ray J., who previously appeared in a sex tape with Kim, an epochal event that West hasn't been shy about referencing in his lyrics. But here he raises those expectations only to confound them. “We were very careful with shots that had [something] sexual to take them out,” he said. What we see instead is a moody, quasi-religious tableau of naked, vulnerable, strangely peaceful bodies at rest. Under the sheets, West seems to be saying, celebrities are just like us.