The 35-minute video tells the story of an otherworldly, phoenix-like creature (Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks) who is transported earth by a meteor and must be consumed by flame to be reborn. Pretty deep stuff.
The video opens with Kanye frantically running down an abandoned country road, with a movement from Mozart’s “Requiem” playing, soon melting into one of Kanye’s tracks.
The stylized film could be interpreted as a thickly layered metaphor for Kanye’s journey to fame. Ebanks portrays a fragile, scared creature that balks in the first thirty seconds of watching the news.
“First rule to this world baby?” Kanye tells her as she crawls away from the television set, “don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news!”
Sage advice, Mr. West.
After Swiftgate, Kanye struggled with backlash from fans and members of the press. “People tweeted that they wish I was dead,” the rapper said. “They wanted me to die, people. I carry that."
It would appear that he still carries that, or at least wants to portray it. Much of the film's theme touches on rebirth, redemption, and loss.
The angel wanders in Kanye’s surprisingly fauna-filled yard, full of rabbits, sheep, and a stray turkey or two. She’s unsure of the world she’s in. While she explores, Kanye watches stoically from behind a window. Then, a very erotic scene where Kanye plays bits of “Power." The phoenix writhes to the beat.
Every moment of joy, it seems, is taken away by a cut to a crazy swirling fireball. Lots of flames, lots of red.
In the next scene, a kid runs through a meadow with a red torch, leading Kanye and Phoenix to a strange gathering of a marching band, in front of hooded red figures reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, with an effigy of Michael Jackson in the middle, quickly replaced by a black figure clothed in white robes. “All The Lights” plays in the background, and both Kanye and the phoenix stare in wonder at the fireworks. Then another fireball scene.
West then tries to civilize the phoenix a la “My Fair Lady” by teaching her how to use silverware, quite a feat owing to the fact she has incredibly long copper talons.
There’s then a dinner party where guests, clad in all white, stare dubiously at West’s dinner date. The guest to West’s right looks at him. “Do you know she’s a bird?” he asks.
West pauses for a beat. “Naw, I never noticed that,” he deadpans.
“I mean, like, leave the monkey in the zoo,” returns the guest.
Kanye seems to have had enough of “polite” society talk, and shuffles over to an old upright piano, where he keys out a strange tune. Instantly, a heard of ballerinas clad in black shuffle out and proceed to gracefully leap and jump.
Then, as many dinner parties often end, a large game turkey is served, and the phoenix enters a screeching panic, spreading her wings to full girth. Cue another giant fireball scene.
In the next scene, West and the phoenix are on his roof. She asks him if he knows what she hates about this new world. “Anything that is different you try to change. You try to tear it down.” There is, inevitably, a love scene to West’s heavily auto-tuned “Lost in the World.” The next morning, he wakes up alone and returns to the woods, only to see the phoenix’s trail of flame taking her back to her home.
It’s hard to know where to start with the visual feast—from a drawn out classical ballet interlude to a fanciful dinner party, the video is intricate at its best and over-ambitious at its worst. Kanye tweeted some thoughts on his video this Saturday, saying, “I love commercial art!!! I know that sounds like an oxy moron and if I spelled that wrong I just sound like a moron lol!!!” following up with, “...but seriously have you guys taken time to think about that concept???!! COMMERCIAL ART!!! It just came to me! That's what I make!”
Brings to mind a line West raps during the dinner party scene: “Hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on the Jumbotron.”