Kanye West’s “Runaway” Video: A Closer Look

Videos by American Songwriter

As you may have heard, Kanye West premiered a 35-minute film Saturday evening.

Runaway tells the story of a phoenix, portrayed by model Selita Ebanks, and contains music from his next album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Even though I haven’t even heard any of his previous albums all the way through (shame on me), I made sure I was watching, because I knew it would be a game-changer. And it is –- while the acting talents of West and Ebanks left much to be desired, Runaway demonstrated a clear artistic vision that is not often seen. It takes an artist of West’s stature to raise the bar for visual branding, just as it took Radiohead to launch the In Rainbows business model. Animal Collective’s film project ODDSAC may have made indie headlines, but Runaway has the potential to revolutionize how major labels do marketing.

Ultimately, such projects require deep pockets, especially if the production values are to be as high as Runaway’s, as well as enough viewers who are sufficiently interested to at least pretend to pay attention for more than half an hour. Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video was already challenging enough to abbreviated attention spans at nine and a half minutes. However, Runaway serves to promote the entire album, justifying the length, though admittedly the extended ballet sequence may have been a little too extended.

What counts is the obvious amount of effort that went into the realization of this film, which not only shows West’s dedication to his craft, but it gets people talking–at a time when there’s also a media frenzy surrounding Taylor Swift’s new album. (Considering how fast-paced modern pop culture is, it seems anomalous that the incident hasn’t been fully let go after a year, but that’s another editorial.)

Some may find Kanye West’s aesthetic laughable–the diamond teeth, the ballet routines, the enormous chain with a pendant of the Egyptian god Horus–but it’s all very calculated and obviously requires a lot of work, which is what keeps him human even when he’s surrounding himself with this mythos of the phoenix. Certainly, he’s aware of his attention to detail. In the Q&A session after Runaway aired, West said, “I used to get cyberbullied for knowing the word ‘mauve.”” At face value, it’s an eyebrow-raising statement, almost comedic. But it shows that West really cares, which is more than can be said of many other artists. It’s what made iamamiwhoami’s bizarre mandrake-themed videos fascinating until the viral campaign became overly dragged out. In an environment where so much consists of the rehashing of tired tropes, West is challenging his peers to rise to his level. Ego or no ego, Runaway showcases why Kanye West is one of the most compelling figures of current popular culture.


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