Unpacking Kanye West and Spike Jonze's Epic, Disturbing New Video

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 22 2009 11:30 AM

Unpacking Kanye West and Spike Jonze's Epic, Disturbing New Video


Yesterday, "RIP Kanye West" was a trending topic on Twitter—the result, it turned out, of a hoax involving a Photoshopped version of the Fox News Web site announcing the rapper's death in a car crash.

This was West's second brush with fake death in four days. On Sunday evening, the music video for his song " See You In My Nightmares " leaked online. Music video isn't quite right, though: Directed by Spike Jonze and titled "We Were Once a Fairytale" after a lyric in the song, the clip runs about 11 minutes long, and a title card early on announces it as a short film. "See You In My Nightmares" (an angry, wounded breakup jam, like many of the songs on 808s and Heartbreak ) plays on the film's soundtrack only intermittently, as incidental music in a nightclub a drunken West is stumbling through. "Do you guys like this song? It's my song! I made all the notes!" he asks two creeped-out girls at one point. Like Leland Palmer in the first season of Twin Peaks , West plays a deeply troubled man searching for a dance partner. (Shot on digital video, low-lit and poorly miked on purpose, the film recalls David Lynch in more than a few places.)

Since the late '90s, it's possible that more hip-hop videos have been set in (and that more rap lyrics have been written about) nightclubs than any other locale—they are the preferred site for the genre's fantasies of power, leisure, and privilege. In Jonze's film, the nightclub is reimagined as a dark, isolating labyrinth where West's impotence is thrown into stark relief. He is not holding court from the cozy confines of the VIP section; he is flopping around gasping; he's had one bottle-service round too many; he's fishing for compliments, groping uninterested women, trying to dance away some unknown pain, making a fool of himself.

The final scene is at once comical and deeply disturbing. West finds a bathroom where he projectile vomits what looks like confetti—a purging of past glitz-and-glamor excess?—and then drives a blade into his stomach, retrieving a furry, stop-motion-animated creature from his intestines, which he severs like an umbilical cord. West laments both his childlessness and the death of his mother on 808s and Heartbreak —here he becomes a mother and a father in the same surreal moment. Or perhaps it isn't West's child but something like his spirit animal, a pathetic, unsightly thing. The two look at each other and, wordlessly, West convinces the creature to commit hari-kari. It's hard to say whether it's a happy ending or not.

Update on October 24: The New York Times is reporting that the leaked version of "We Were Once a Fairytale," which was posted to Kanye West's blog and then taken down, isunfinished (the paper also reports that it's rose petals, not confetti, that Mr. Westvomits towards the film's end). The official version will be availableon iTunes on Tuesday, October 27. 

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Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.