“We are both sensitive people and we were hurt a lot by it. I mean, we couldn’t understand it. When you’re in love, when somebody says something like, ‘How can you be with that woman?’ You say, ‘What do you mean? I am with this goddess of love, the fulfillment of my whole life. Why are you saying this? Why do you want to throw a rock at her or punish me for being in love with her?’ Our love helped us survive it, but some of it was pretty violent. There were a few times when we nearly went under, but we managed to survive and here we are. [looks upward] Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
—John Lennon, Playboy interview, 1980
The opening montage of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s video for “Bound 2” is what the “We now conclude our broadcast day” message might look like on state-controlled television in a dictatorship ruled by General KimYe. Monument Valley! The majestic, cold-activated Rocky Mountains! Eagles! Wyld stallyns! Do our Dear Leaders love us and want us to be happy and prosperous? Uh-huh, honey! When Kanye and Kim show up onscreen, he’s in a ripped tie-dye T-shirt, riding a Honda dirt bike, and she’s topless, riding him. Kanye later told Charlamagne Tha God he wanted the clip to look “as phony as possible.” Heckuva job, Yeezus! My favorite part is that even though the bike is pretty clearly stationary in front of a green screen, someone’s gone to the trouble of making it bob up and down to suggest otherwise, an effect that makes Kim and Kanye look less like broken heroes on a last-chance power drive and more like two people getting mad inappropriate on a coin-op rocket ship in front of the Dollar Tree. Tramps: They’re just like us!
It’s a terrible music video and a wonderful piece of art. Or maybe it’s the other way around — I go back and forth. All I know is that this year I treated myself to a pretty stupid 60-inch television, and “Bound 2” was the first thing that’s made me wish it were bigger, so I could better appreciate the HD spectacle of two cultural icons totally fake-doin’-it in front of the buttes Clint Eastwood scaled in The Eiger Sanction. The director is British fashion photographer Nick Knight, who also morphed Kanye into a glitchy Lawnmower Man for a W spread and endowed Ye’s avatar with a knee-grazing CGI wiener in the “Black Skinhead” video. But the Knight-West collaboration that “Bound 2” most resembles is Knight’s cover shot for the Spring issue of the French magazine L’Officiel Hommes, the one where Kim’s grabbing the back of Kanye’s head and making a sneezy O-face, so it looks like they’re reenacting the moment of baby North’s conception. C’est chic parce que c’est français!
As a new parent, you don’t really get to have intimate moments spontaneously; you have to pencil them into the schedule, or the promo cycle for your new album, depending. In that respect, “Bound 2” was next-level multitasking, at once an adult-business-time opportunity for Kim and Kanye, an instantly viral second-single push for Yeezus, and an announcement of Kim’s triumphant return to active duty as one of our nakedest celebrities. She doesn’t seem totally comfortable in front of Knight’s camera, as she did in front of her own a few weeks earlier, and as a viewer you’re never not conscious of how self-consciously she’s arranging her body on the bike, or the fact that her nipples have been removed in post. Given all that, the video is about as sexy as an ad for laser vaginal-rejuvenation surgery, but it’s also incredibly sweet and romantic. It looks like they started laughing after every take. Making a goofy green-screen clip to help his wife-to-be spread the word about her rockin’ post-baby body didn’t really fit with the all-black-everything aesthetic Kanye had carefully curated around Yeezus, but hey, relationships are about compromise.
In its own way, so is “Bound 2” itself. The rest of Yeezus sounds like a man in really confrontational leather pants purging a gut load of psychic toxins into a steel sink that has won several major design awards; “Bound 2” is the one moment Kanye cops to truly caring about someone other than himself and God. It’s a disarmingly honest song about what it takes to make a relationship work long-term, with Charlie Wilson playing marriage counselor on the hook. “Ayo, we made it, Thanksgiving,” Kanye says, “so, hey, maybe we’ll make it to Christmas,” which is when he’ll reopen the previously tabled threesome issue, it sounds like. People scandalized by the sight of Miley Cyrus’s tongue would have you believe pop music’s depiction of sex grows coarser with each passing year, and maybe in some ways it does. But committed-relationship sex songs had a real moment in 2013, in ways both sublime (Beyoncé’s “Blow” and “Rocket,” and especially “Body Party,” Ciara’s kush-in-the-bubble-bath duet with her fiancée, Future) and ridiculous (all those Justin Timberlake songs about riding the rainbow to Pleasure Town with Jessica Biel). While you wouldn’t necessarily quote it during a vow-renewal ceremony, in context, that “spunk on the mink” reverie is just Kanye telling Kim she’s still the one.
When Kanye debuted “New Slaves” on Saturday Night Live back in May, more than a few people wondered if railing against consumerism and designer-label fetters wasn’t a somewhat hypocritical look for an artist who was also very publicly dating a Kardashian. As if! A teacher’s son who named his first album The College Dropout, Kanye has always derived creative energy from contradiction. It makes perfect sense to me that after a year or so rolling heavy with the Calabasas Kennedys, he’d turn around and make Yeezus, an album at least partly about how money makes people disgusting. If you’d spent that much time with Kris Jenner and Scott Disick, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up, too — or yelling a concept album about your penis over the most hard-ass metal-machine beats you could come up with. Yeezus is Kanye getting all the cokey bad vibes and fisting jokes out of his system before holding his daughter for the first time, but it’s also a primal-scream record by a genius under paparazzi siege, and so clearly motivated by a need to prove that dating a reality star hasn’t made him soft that you almost have to credit Kim as one of its authors. It’s his Plastic Kardashian Band. (Which obviously makes that “You’re so awesome” Auto-Tune freestyle he did for a super-pregnant Kim during his New York performances this spring his “Oh Yoko!”)
I’m not implying that Kanye sees anything shameful about dating a Kardashian. Far from it. In October, West took time out from his beef-squashing sit-down with Jimmy Kimmel to put the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on blast. “They said something like they’re not gonna put my girl on the Walk of Fame because, y’know, she’s a reality star. It’s like, people are so, so dated, and not modern. There’s no way a Kim Kardashian shouldn’t have a star on the Walk of Fame. It’s ridiculous, old concepts.”
To the extent that this had anything to do with anything — other than the fact that Kimmel’s studio is right on Hollywood Boulevard and Kanye had presumably stepped on the Walk of Fame earlier that day — it was a reference to a 2012 microflap that began when Kim said she’d like to one day have a Walk of Fame star. “She needs to get a real acting job,” a Walk of Fame spokesperson sniffed in response. “Then come to us.” The list of people who do have Walk of Fame stars includes Rick Dees, the Rugrats, Donald Trump, and Judge Judy, as well as Keeping Up With the Kardashians executive producer Ryan Seacrest. You’d have thought Kim had proposed jackhammering Lillian Gish’s name off the sidewalk to make room for hers. The most important part of the process of obtaining a Walk of Fame star involves giving the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce $30,000; Kim was effectively being told her money was tainted.
She and Kanye are perfect for each other because he craves the approval of cultural gatekeepers of any kind, whether Hedi Slimane or Nike or Jimmy Kimmel, hates himself for craving it, hates the gatekeepers for having the power to withhold it, and relishes any opportunity to call them out. And Kim comes from the democratic wilderness of reality TV, an arena those gatekeepers hate because they don’t make the rules there. Kanye sees no relevant distinction between the cultural security systems that spring to aggrieved life when someone like Kim Kardashian threatens the sanctity of the Walk of Fame, and the various snooty authority figures who won’t let him give the worlds of high fashion and luxury-product design and technology the gifts he knows he has to give them. He managed to turn getting engaged to another good-looking rich person and putting out a noise record about lamps into acts of insurgency, and yet fucking Nike still isn’t convinced he’s magical? I give up.
Last week Beyoncé surprise-released a self-titled album that makes Magna Carta … Holy Grail look even more like a plastic cereal-box toy, but I’m guessing Jay Z’s ego will recover and their marriage will survive. If Kanye were ever put in that position by a significant other, he’d commit suicide and then get divorced. So another reason Kim’s perfect for Kanye is there’s no chance she’ll ever create something that rivals Yeezus (or even Hall of Fame). In that W story, he denied he was responsible for Kim’s transition to more “structured, monochromatic” looks, which is funny because anyone who watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians had already seen Kanye send his assistants to Kim’s house to purge all the tacky shit from her closet. Still, Kanye insisted, nobody tells Kim what to wear. “She just needed to be given some platforms of information to work from.”
When Jay Pharoah and Nasim Pedrad played Kim and Kanye as morning-show cohosts on Saturday Night Live in November, the notion that Kanye seeks to mold Kim into the kind of cosmopolitan creative he could be proud of was the only real joke:
PHAROAH-AS-KANYE: “I turned this woman into an artiste, a philosopher, an intergalactic icon of creativity.”
PEDRAD-AS-KIM: [Smiling idiotically.] “I’m also blonde now!”
Then “Kanye” told “Kim” to show the audience her latest project, which turned out to be a macaroni necklace. “Y’all hear that?” he said triumphantly. “She just changed the game! Food is jewelry now!”
Good sketch — but it was predicated on the suspect notion that Kanye is the only actual artist in his relationship. Kim’s an artist whose medium is publicity; so is Kanye, even if that’s only one of the things he is. And they’re performing as a duo on a host of different stages that didn’t exist when the Walk of Fame was built — bathroom Instagram shoots, viral videos, and reality television. To assume what they have isn’t already a creative collaboration is just so, so dated and not modern. Old concepts!
The only thing better than true love is true love that is also a sophisticated power-structure-trolling conceptual-art project. And yet I do think they’re really in love. I didn’t know until “Bound 2.” When he’s on that motorcycle with her, it doesn’t look like a part of his soul is dying of embarrassment, the way Ben Affleck did when he slapped J.Lo’s ass in the “Jenny From the Block” video. In so many ways, Kim is so wrong for Kanye’s brand, and yet he wants to tell the world how he feels about her, and this is the way he wants to tell us.
North West was born on June 15, five weeks ahead of schedule. The first publicly released photo was refreshingly low-concept — confused-looking baby, nondesigner burp cloth. In October, video of Kanye proposing marriage to Kim on the field at San Francisco’s AT&T Park was posted on the Internet by a man named Chad Hurley, one of the founders of YouTube, a guest of a guest filming on the sly. The first-base-line camera angle is actually very cinematic.
Hurley posted the video despite having been allowed to stay and watch on the condition he would not do that. He’d even signed a waiver to that effect, because if you’re Kanye West, of course you keep waivers on hand, because you never know when you’re going to have to NDA one of the architects of YouTube or a stray Winklevoss or a falcon with a camera strapped to its head. KimYe filed suit against Hurley on Halloween, accusing him of being a foundering entrepreneur desperate for a “second act” after some business setbacks, including the failure of his Formula One team.
Regarding the actual proposal: “It was like an out-of-body experience. I truly had no idea,” said Kardashian, who’d personally selected the 15-carat Lorraine Schwartz engagement ring Kanye proposed to her with. After she said yes, dozens of invited guests rushed onto the field from the dugout, and a 50-piece orchestra played Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. The chorus of “Young and Beautiful” is Del Rey asking, in her haunted-Bel-Air-penthouse moan, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?” There are definitely less depressing songs to play at a moment like this; there are even less depressing Lana Del Rey songs to play at a moment like this. But Kanye chose it because Kim likes it.