With the official release of the video for Kanye West's "Monster," I'm reminded of the arguments I had when the first version leaked at the tail end of last year, wherein I yelled how that version was in no way final. The idea that Kanye, an aesthete so thoroughly crippled by his own perfectionism, would intentionally put out a video with clear Getty Images watermarks in multiple shots, was so laughable it made me weep. I mean, you just know the man sent Amber Rose back into the walk-in at least three times before approving her outfit every night.
After the bounce
It's this same steadfast commitment to visual greatness that serves as the key driver with this effort. From its opening disclaimer, it's clear West is aiming for his own version of "Thriller." But unlike movie buff Michael Jackson and movie director John Landis, West and Jake Nava (whose European editorial sensibilities helped take Beyoncé supernova) are a decidedly more fashiony pair. Thus, we're left with a six-minute magazine editorial with beautifully grim lighting, impeccable styling, and with a bevy of gorgeous models of varying hues (including Wilhelmina runt Taylor Warren, who seems so full of hip-hop stereotypes, she probably spells "rapper" with only one P) playing undead for the camera. In other words, it's all too damn pretty to be disturbing. But if you're looking for actual artistic grotesquery in the contemporary pop sphere, go ahead and google "monster" as defined by Gaga, Our Lady of Focus-Group Edge and let me know what you find.
Yeah, didn't think so.
Pop prettiness notwithstanding, Nava does have moments of sheer brilliance -- not least of which is a setup wherein Kanye is hounded by a horde of creatures outside his grim mansion. They are clearly an army of the undead seeking to consume him. Or are they really the angry-yet-terrified townspeople converging on Frankenstein's monster? Neither narrative is supported to the point of obviousness, and it's here Nava scores his greatest victory.
Old-timey allusions aside, this video is every bit a product of its time. With music-video-playing music video channels all but extinct, most recording artists have migrated to (and now create specifically for) the Wild West that is the Web, seemingly beyond the reach of an out-of-touch FCC too busy clutching its pearls at every case of Gossip Girl side-boob it can find on TV.
But rather than overindulge in flesh, Glock shots, and embarrassing product placement, West spends his censor-free cache on gore-filled scenes of disembowelment and implied necrophilia -- pursuits best illustrated by high-cheekboned beauties with meticulously messy hair. It's all so ludicrously perfect, it's like watching a midnight screening of When Mannequins Attack!! Still, give me these dead-eyed models over the combined efforts of the guest rappers (Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj) any day. With them, it's all underwhelming play-acting by a cast that fails to match West's commitment to Sparkle Motion, either because they can't (Minaj, whose overzealously edited vamping distracts from the sickest verse of her career), or simply won't (Jigga, continuing his slow transition into the milquetoast elder-statesman Ken to his wife's excessively media-trained Barbie).
Still, it's fun to watch Nava, the man who does pretty better than anyone, try for ugly. He fails thoroughly, of course. And you get the sense he sought to. Problem is, after all is said and done, you kinda wish he succeeded...even if just a little.
See, Kanye was right to bemoan the leak. No matter how I tried to love the final video, the fact is its thunder was completely stolen by the rough cut whose unfinished editing and lack of color-correction made it more shocking and disturbing than anything in the shiny visual wankfest we finally got, six months too late.
And yes, that Getty watermark still gives me nightmares.