Sean Rose likes Music Videos: a column by Sean Rose

Hello all! It's me Sean Rose again, your good friend! I am here to once again talk to you about my favorite subject in the whole world: music videos. The best subject ever!

Last week we kicked things off by talking about a music video that defined the image of a band for the rest of their career. This week, I'd like to talk about a video that took the image of its creator into a strikingly new, unusual direction: Kanye West's 35-minute self-directed 2010 short film, Runaway.

Runaway is billed as a short film likely so Kanye could give it an appropriate sense of gravitas and grandeur. But make no mistake: Runaway is a longform music video, one that uses almost every song from his then-recently released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It could be called a visual trip through the entire album - as the movie unfolds, songs are used chronologically, with album opener "Dark Fantasy" in the opening credits and the haunting last track "Lost In The World" gracing its final scenes. The ambition here is pure Kanye: he wanted to make a big, sprawling music video to visually summarize his biggest album to date. And, if you ask me, he did it!

Runaway was a real pleasure for me, because it is possibly the most perfect illustration of what I like to call "music video logic." As a piece of story-driven filmmaking, Runaway is pretty thin: Kanye finds a strange phoenix lady on the side of the road. Kanye brings her to his posh home, grooves with her to the beat of "POWER", then takes her to a fancy dinner party where she freaks out after seeing a cooked turkey on the table. At some point they fall in love? Then she and Kanye have sex and she burns up in the sky? Right? Right.

None of that matters, and Kanye knows it. Throw it all out. That's not the point here. Do not watch Runaway looking for story. What you will get is a perfect visual interpretation of Dark Twisted Fantasy's music, a methodic and hypnotizing trip through the mind of Mr. West: strange forests, flashy cards, animals, half-naked dancing phoenix women, ballerinas, pianos, floating Michael Jackson heads, fiery explosions in the sky. Kanye claimed that Runaway was his attempt at creating an "overall representation" of what he dreams, and on that level it works so well. It's beautiful dream logic - perfect logic for a music video.

Because what would Runaway be without the music? The answer is nothing. It's a worthless criticism, to say this is a bad movie because it doesn't work without the music. The music is the movie. Without it, it wouldn't exist.

I could talk about the entire movie, but I won't. Instead I will encourage you to watch it yourself. What I would like to talk about is the movie's centerpiece: the 9-minute segment dedicated to its titular song, "Runaway," which I've linked to above.

If you don't have the patience to sit through all of Runaway (which I guess I understand, kinda, but not really), please just watch the "Runaway" segment linked above. It works as a standalone music video for the song on its own, striking and individual and impressive. It's such a good and true interpretation of the song at hand that it gives me chills.

As a song "Runaway" is solitary, powerful stuff, Kanye at his most grandiose and personal. The movie frames it as such: Kanye is at a dinner party with a big group of strange people who don't talk too much. The guy next to him asks him if he realizes his girlfriend is a bird, eliciting the very Kanye response of "No, I never really noticed that." Without another word, Kanye gets up, walks over to a piano on the other side of the room, and starts playing the first lonely piano note of "Runaway." Right when that first key is struck - like some kind of summoning - an army of ballerinas rush in, and dance in front of the piano while Kanye sings. The crowd looks on in eerie, appreciative silence.

I wish I could describe to you the effect this video had on me, but it is difficult. I'll say this: watching the "Runaway" segment, I felt a moment of beautiful communion with the mind of Kanye West, knowing that we were both visualizing this song in the same way. None of it makes any sense, yeah, but as a visual interpretation of "Runaway," somehow tightly choreographed ballet just fits. Kanye didn't throw ballerinas in there 'cause he thought it would be neato to have ballerinas in his movie. No. Kanye just knew, instinctively, that ballerinas and "Runaway" needed to be together. He felt it deep down, and you can tell when you watch. There's really something there.

And when they all stop and pose for the weird vocoder coda? Maaaaaan, that is RAD. Chills!

Kanye has made a lot of cool funny videos in his career (see: "Flashing Lights," "Can't Tell Me Nothing," etc etc), but Runaway was his first attempt to make a music video of pure intuition and instinct, and it works so well. While modern pop stars have been trying their hand at ambitious 10+-minute music videos a lot more in the last five years or so (see: Katy Perry, Lady Gaga), none have had the ambition or understanding of what makes a music video great quite like Runaway. Yes, it's super weird and vague and pretentious, but it's also pure proof that, in the hands of the right people, music videos can be powerful and emotional work. 

Will he do the same for Yeezus?? Don't you think Yeezus would be all up in some scary cave somewhere, and it's like pitch black? And maybe there's a cave monster and you hear him growing, but like wayyy off in the distance? Then "On Sight" kicks in and shakes the walls? Yeahhh. That's my Yeezus movie.

-Sean Rose