Well, that was 34 minutes I probably won't get back. I wasn't necessarily mad that I lost 34 minutes to watching Kanye West's opus "Runaway." But as someone who has consumed as much media as I have, I came away will feeling that Kanye is someone who's also consumed a lot of media, and while talented with a good eye and ear, I can't say the actual writing and execution of "Runaway" was particularly ground-breaking. But, hey! He tried something different! Ballerinas! Explosions! Giant white Michael Jackson heads! All starring Victoria's Secret model Selita Ebanks near naked in nothing but feathers as that hoary trope "The Phoenix" and Kanye West as that other hoary trope "The Troubled Artist No One Understands!"
All that is written below is out of love. I actually enjoy Kanye's music. I own all his albums and several mixtapes and will probably purchase this latest album when it is released.
That said ... what on earth was this?
I realize that some folks think the video is deep. I didn't really find it to be that deep. Especially considering the story of the phoenix and the misunderstood artist are pretty old, well-worn stories. The narrative is simple. Phoenix falls from earth and hits Kanye's car. Kanye likes the Phoenix and takes her home. (Pssst. The Phoenix is a metaphor for Kanye.) He shows the Phoenix around. They go to a marching band funeral parade for Michael Jackson. (Psst. Michael Jackson was a master of the long-form music video and this is a long-form music video. He was also an visionary artist. He was also misunderstood. See previous "metaphor for Kanye.")
Later he takes the Phoenix to dinner where there are a bunch of darker complexioned black people dressed in white being served by white people. These black folks are uppity. They really aren't that impressed by the Phoenix as, you know, she's a bird and weird. Kanye performs "Runaway" with a bunch of ballerinas. (Psst. Ballerinas are classy n' shit.) This is pretty much my favorite part of the video because I like ballet and I like the song "Runaway" which I actually think is much deeper and more layered than this video it wound up with.
The song, by my estimation, is about Kanye's own self-hatred issues and living a life where he is both surrounded by rotten people, but is also a rotten person himself at times. Throughout the lyrics he suggests that all women who make the mistake of trying to love him should probably make a break for it because he's too messed up to really love. (But still don't leave him. He'll miss you.)
Later dinner is served and there's a giant pheasant on the table that looks a lot like the Phoenix so she freaks out. (Metaphor: We eat our own. Subtle.) Later the Phoenix and Kanye have a stilted chat about how this world eats its own, in case you didn't get it the first time. She, essentially, announces that his world blows and she wants to "burn" so she can go back to where she came from. Kanye doesn't want the Phoenix to leave. But ... you know she does anyway, and then Kanye runs through the woods so fast you're afraid the buttons are going to fly off his shirt.
Throughout the piece you hear some pretty great music from the coming album, and that was pretty much my favorite part. But the actual video had the look of the glossiest film school project ever based on a script by something I might have written when I was 13. This doesn't mean that Kanye should stop trying, but that, you know, maybe he should get more people. People who will be critical and give valuable insight on things. Because it's obvious he's still learning and has talent, but would benefit from a film mentor and a decent writer who could make his visions come together better until he's able to fully handle a project on his own. But this is pretty much my same gripe with Tyler Perry, someone who has a ton of money, but no interest in actually learning the craft, hence keeps making films that ask the audience to forgive his shortcomings so they can enjoy entertainment that reflects their tastes. Meaning, I can appreciate his right to make art, but don't particularly care for it because I know what decent plot, good writing and a story arc is.
My issue with Runaway is that Kanye could have had all those outstanding visuals, but could have also had a better story to hang it on if he'd move past the navel gazing self-indulgence with the whole "I'm so different in the exact same way other people are different" and get at the real introspection it takes to create transformative art.
To paraphrase the film "Inception," Kanye needs to "go deeper." Then go hang out with Spike Jonze or Spike Lee or SPIKE SOMEBODY for a few hours.
Side note: Would it have killed him to hire someone who can actually sing to sing the hook? I mean, I don't mind unusual singing if you have an unusual (i.e. "interesting") voice. I blame Pharell. He started this marginal singing craze by rappers and as much as I love N.E.R.D. I have no real desire to hear Ye sing with or without autotune. You're friends with John Legend, for goodness sake! Work it out! Get Cody Chestnutt to sing the chorus on "Runaway." It's not like he's doing anything.