Sunday, January 29, 2006

Heard 'Em Say

Kanye West is complex and fascinating. Sometimes I rave about him, other times I'm annoyed with him, but the fact that I'm among the millions who care one way or the other says something about his relevance. Today, I read an excellent article by Karen Valby about West in Entertainment Weekly. In it, West blasts the director of the first music video for "Heard 'Em Say" -- also known as his weak follow-up track to "Gold Digger."

"'Heard 'Em Say' is my favorite song of all time that I did! So why couldn't I have had a good video for it? Man, I feel like I sent my gifted child to a bad school."

There's a lot going on in these 37 words.

- I respect West for his honesty. The fact that he's calling out director Michel Gondry is unusual in the respect that artists rarely criticize music video directors in public. A quote like this a coup for a journalist to hear.

- I have mixed feelings for Gondry, who just got slammed by one of the industry's hottest tickets. That can't be good for his resume. West is right in saying that the video was overcooked, cheesy and drab, but ouch. Not exactly the most professional way to go about it.

- While I applaud West for his honesty about the video itself, there's something very important that he does not appear willing to admit: "Heard 'Em Say" is a boring song. Gondry probably did the best he could with a song that only got radio play because of Kanye West's name.

- West's other hint that the video was not the problem was the fact that an alternate video was produced for the same track, featuring an animated, black-and-white saga. While the video's more engaging, the song remains the bigger problem.

Is the average, albeit enjoyable, video for "Gold Digger" what made it such a big hit? No. It's the biggest song of 2005 -- one that West correctly states is a "gimme Grammy" -- that earned radio play on its own merits. It's such a good track that it allowed for Jaime Foxx to make a few more bucks on a Ray Charles impersonation that had worn thin, long before he won the Academy Award. (And to be fair, I think Foxx is an oustanding actor; I just enjoyed his work in "Jarhead" so much more than "Ray.")

In short, the "Heard 'Em Say" song, peaking at No. 26 on the charts, was the far bigger problem than either of the videos.

Still, West is painfully reflective and "so self-conscious," as he declares on "All Falls Down." And I'll cut him slack because not only are his hits monsters, but also he's not afraid to take chances inside and outside of the industry, such as his Katrina fundraiser outburst against Bush, and his vocal efforts to stop gay-bashing. So few artists in any music genre appear willing to take such chances while still hoping to reach out to the largest audience possible.

I'll also give him props because in an EW sidebar, he proclaims the greatness that is Bill Murray:

"The best comedic actor of all time. My favorite Bill Murray movie? Oh, I really want to go back to 'Ghostbusters 1' and '2.' I refer to 'Groundhog Day' all the time, and I just got 'Broken Flowers.' That's what makes him so dope; he's still so good!"

Hmm... maybe I should give "Heard 'Em Say" one more listen.