This post contains nudity.
The video for Kanye West’s “Famous” debuted Friday night at the Forum just outside of Los Angeles and is now streaming exclusively on Tidal. In the video, Kanye and his wife Kim Kardashian West recline in an enormous white bed, joined by the sleeping, nude bodies of George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian West, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlin Jenner, and, of course, Bill Cosby. Yes, America, the celebs are at it again.
At first glance, it seems easy to dismiss “Famous” as an empty provocation, but it’s worth bearing in mind the disclaimer on Kanye’s video for “Monster,” warning the audience that, although it might look like a parade of dead models, in reality “it is an art piece and it shall be taken as such.” Seen in this light, it becomes clear that, as Vanity Fair proclaimed, “Famous” is a “moody, quasi-religious tableau of naked, vulnerable, strangely peaceful bodies at rest,” and a “visual manifesto” that “might be his most thought-provoking work yet.” “Famous” arrives complete with contemporary art credibility, since it’s based on Vincent Desiderio’s 2008 mural “Sleep.”
Although West mentioned Desiderio and Matthew Barney in his interview with Vanity Fair, he’s being modest. By taking an existing painting, replacing the original subjects with celebrities—including the naked body of a woman who seems to want nothing to do with him—rendering it in three dimensions, and then filming the results, he is drawing boldly from a much wider variety of artists both classical (Philippe Curtius, Marie Tussaud) and contemporary (Gottfried Helnwein, Jon McNaughton, Lolita Perine, Craig Brittain). In fact, when the video is considered in context—a meditation on celebrity by a celebrity which will immediately be surrounded by meditations on a meditation on celebrity by a celebrity by noncelebrities, until more celebrities weigh in, at which point noncelebrities will meditate on that—it becomes clear that West’s artistic influences stretch all the way back to the 14th century B.C. Don’t worry who the ouroboros is, though: Just keep chewing.