I’m going to step out of the regular FADER pluralis majestatis for a moment because so much of what I’m about to say is from my personal experience writing our most recent cover story on Kanye West from January 2009. When this new “making of” video emerged yesterday, I found myself watching it repeatedly, almost against my will, reminded of so many things that didn’t make it into that story but are still apparently making their way into Kanye’s art. After the jump, read a few annotated bullet points that will hopefully illuminate some of the details in this exquisite behind-the-scenes of Kanye West’s “Power” video, which will debut tonight at 11PM on MTV and subsequently appear on every website on the internet.
0:00-0:37 Okay first, Marco Brambilla: Italian visual artist living in Los Angeles and New York who’s shown at the New Museum on Bowery and screened at Cannes among many other places. Super interesting guy. Now, when I was sitting with Kanye at a picnic table in the patio of his LA studio doing the interview, someone brought him a monograph of Vanessa Beecroft, another well-known visual artist who eventually worked with Kanye on the album listening sessions where nude women stood around and made journalists wild uncomfortable. As Kanye flipped through the book, he said something like, “See what I like about this is that it’s really beautiful art, but there’s also a bunch of titties.” That is not an exact quote but it’s really close. The person who gave him the book, who’d clearly invested at some point in learning about fine art, had a look similar to when you smell someone fart on a plane, like you can’t really say anything but it’s still offensive. It was hilarious. I have sampled this quote from Kanye on many occasions. Thank you, Kanye. I hope, and kind of know, that Kanye probably said similar things to Brambilla during the making of this video because I see a lot of similarities to the artist’s existing piece, Civilizations but then later on there’s a clear indication of a greater focus on titties.
1:00-1:23 It took a few viewings to figure out why hotelier Andre Balazs was in this thing, but I figured it out. He installed video screens in the elevators at his Standard Hotel NYC that loop Brambilla’s Civilizations, thus giving credence to Kanye’s taste and maybe revealing the source of his inspiration. I snuck into the Boom Boom Room at the top of The Standard once and I don’t remember those videos at all. Maybe because I was anxious on the way up and hammered on the way down. But I did see Mary J Blige and some other people who looked like famous people, so presumably Kanye has been there. He doesn’t have an elevator at his LA home, but his bedroom looks like a penthouse that Balazs might put at the top of one of his hotels: very simple and sparse and then BAM giant animal skin throw and weird sculpture.
1:24-2:02 In the dining room of Kanye’s house is a huge painting by Ernie Barnes, the artist responsible for Sugar Shack, which would eventually don the cover of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and the iconic closing titles art of ’70s sitcom Good Times. Barnes had created a mini-Michaelangelo tableau with Kanye as an angel in the center of much chaos and turmoil, and I imagined that every time someone took a drink they looked right at it. This didn’t bother me so much as create a scene where I’m chilling at a dinner party over at Kanye’s and I take a sip of wine and I’m like, oh man that’s a crazy painting of Kanye West to myself, and then I stop drinking and I’m like, oh man there’s Kanye West at this dinner party. This would then happen every five to seven minutes and get less and less to myself as I got drunker. This part of the video, where Brambilla and Creative Time’s Anne Pasternak talk about the specific choices being made has little to do with that other than the glimpses of Kanye in his enormous gold chain and ring centered amidst chaos and turmoil.
2:01-2:35 Titties. Brambilla says, “This is a highly constructed, highly mannered, somewhat religious tableau that communicates the end of an empire,” and then there are scenes of him talking to Kanye about presumably just that. But it’s basically just titties and Kanye’s kind of laughing in those scenes. I wonder if Brambilla ever made that fartface. Probably not, he seems pretty chill.
2:35-2:45 Brambilla gives Kanye daps for allowing him to shoot brand new footage of nude models to make the video more visceral. Credits. This is basically what Kanye offers to people. You may have a talent that some people know about but Kanye offers you the chance to be a part of pop culture history. That is a seductive call, I imagine. Kanye actually asked me to give him some lyric ideas to finish a section of “Amazing” when we were at the studio. I declined in a rare moment of journalistic integrity but driving home that night I remember feeling like I could’ve been a party of that song—Kanye, Jeezy and me. Buddies just making a jam together no big deal. Still kind of gives me the fartface every time I think about it, but he did just fine without me.