Why a few seconds can be so special.
Okay, that’s not the video that this article about. I included it for two reasons: It’s a first-rate Vine and it illustrates how short videos can be such masterful works of online entertainment.
Click here for the video this post is really about.
Okay, so now that you’ve watched both of those let’s set the stage for what brought me to writing about The Louis Voutton Don and a ferocious Bengal Tiger.
I was looking at Kim Kardashian’s twitter feed. Move past that. Anyway, I saw the following tweet:
That Keek meant a lot to me. If you know me or my work, you partially understand why. I’ve mentioned Yeezy now and then. I did a Saturday List on his 25 Best Songs, and I listed “All Falls Down” as Number 1 (it is also probably my favorite). This tweet was posted just days after the 10th anniversary of The College Dropout, his album on which that song is found. On that day I tweeted this:
But there is so much more to why I like this video update so much. It’s not just because I have some interest in the life of Kanye West, his music introduced me to hip-hop, or because that’s one of my favorite albums and songs. It’s because of all the things a short video update can do. Before I explain specifically what is so great about the Kanye video, let me explain why short videos are so great using the tiger video as an example.
Vine has become immensely popular in the last year for good reason. People discovered with the GIF that a super-short motion picture could be a ton of fun, and Vines improved on the GIF because they are a lucid video rather than a stuttering loop. Vines prove to be better than a full-length YouTube video because they are more time efficient and because sometimes less quantity means immensely more quality. Although they only last for seven seconds, a Vine can hold so many layers and nuances that create an immense amount of humor and intrigue. These principles translate over to Keek (36 seconds) and to shorter YouTube videos (apply what you learn here to the Colombian Scorpion-Save after you’re done reading). The beauty of these short video clips are a treasure trove for people like me who find immense enjoyment in critically considering what we watch. The Vine at the top of this post is so much more than a tiger leaping from the tall grass. Here are the layers that make it one of the best Vines I have seen (and I’ve seen many, many Vines):
- The title sets us up. “Camouflage level 100” has us wondering what we’re going to see. Ten guys in gillie-suits stand up in the field?
- Nothing happens the first few seconds, building the suspense.
- Then the completely unexpected happens, as a freaking tiger runs out of the grass, and then lunges in the most ferocious manner possible at the people. In fact, his lunge is almost over-the-top, like you’d never expect to see that outside of a fictional movie. He’s even roaring!
Then you watch it a second time and all sorts of questions, realizations, and feelings hit you:
- Why are they filming this in the first place?
- I can see the grass moving a little this time.
- The cameraman’s lack of focus shows he’s not entirely sure where the tiger is.
- One guy is holding a stick, so they must know the tiger is there, and they must be preparing to defend themselves (again, why are they filming this?)
- It’s not really clear what the humans are riding.
- It’s not clear how many humans are out here, or why they’re in this field.
- That tiger is really, really intent on getting them.
- What happens to them after the video?
- How did this end up on Vine?
All of that in seven seconds.
So now let’s walk through the layers of the Kanye video. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll know a little more about online videos, rap music, rap concerts, me, Mr. West, and what it means to be human. No, I’m not just playing the human condition card. It’s there.
The personal nature of the video’s delivery. I was able to watch this video because Kim Kardashian tweeted. There’s an entire blog to be written on that statement. A woman who has become ridiculously famous because she is ridiculously hot and because she used a video recorder years before she used one to make this Keek (let the reader understand) made this happen. Her Wikipedia, unlike other celebrities, has no “Personal Life” section because her career is her personal life. This mega-celebrity that I will never have any personal relationship with did something personal and took a video of her husband at work and took the time to share it with the world.
“Kanye decided to play some old songs”. Kanye fans like me have this feeling that he’s forgotten his old music. Then I see his set lists still include “Jesus Walks” and “Through the Wire” and I think How can he still play those songs and not make music like that? Doesn’t the crowd spazz when he does that? Kim clues us in to the fact that this isn’t a regular occurrence on the Yeezus Tour. She, Kanye, and the crowd realize these are “old” songs, and it takes a conscious decision to play them. This happened because of the mercy of Kanye West.
The up-to-date presence of celebrity. Seeing famous people in person is weird. For me, I’m hit with the realization that I’m actually seeing those people whose music I listen to. What was a collage of music videos, interviews, tweets, statuses, and songs is now standing in front of me as another human being. I’m no long reliant on the internet to inform as to what they’re doing: I’m staying informed live. It gets even weirder when you talk to them because of the realization that your actions directly affected theirs. In this case I didn’t see Kanye in person (never have) but the impromptu nature of the home-video give me a look into an actual real-life occurrence in the life of Mr. West outside of a music video or interview. He’s not on another Taylor Swift meme: he’s actually there, doing what he does.
“What about this one?” Kanye knows that the crowd is going to geek out when Syleena Johnson’s hook starts (and they do). This is one reason people like going to concerts: the unplanned, organic interactions with the crowd. Granted, Kanye has been known to plan out his lines (he had a famous routine on the Watch the Throne Tour with “All of the Lights”) but even if this was planned it still feels original and fun. For a moment he stops performing his music you’ve heard so many times in your headphones and crosses the threshold of celebrity to say something directly to you. It’s actually a common dynamic at rap concerts, as the setup of a man with a mic indoors that close to the crowd just lends itself to audience interaction. Call-and-response, dance lessons, sermons, and song intros play into an experience that can really set the rapper at the level of the crowd, which is unique for Kanye as he has often utilized the grandiose in his concerts. This feels more like the final scene in 8 Mile and less like a Super Bowl halftime show, which is exactly what I want in a rap concert.
The Oneness of the Crowd. This is fun. It’s a great feeling to be surrounded by people who are into the same music as you. When I saw U2 at Soldier Field, it was amazing to hear tens of thousands of people singing along with their greatest hits. When I was at the Legacy Conference and Tedashii was near the end of his set, he asked the crowd what song they should do next. I knew, I knew that the people up front were going to ask for “Riot”. And they did. And he played it. And it was dope. The crowd at the Yeezus Tour are together on this one. When the hook starts they all love it. Even cooler: they know they all love it.
The High Hands. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for that, but if you’ve ever been to a rap concert you know what it’s like when the crowd puts their hands up and waves them to the beat. It’s one of the great characteristics of rap concerts, and the one in this video is pure. There’s something cool about a rapper-prompted one (think 8 Mile final scene again “Everybody in the 3-1-3….”), but it’s even cooler when the audience just knows. In this case, the audience starts off right away with the hook, but then continue in earnest (and in unison) when the beat drops. Only then does Kanye urge the crowd to keep them up. They seem to gladly oblige.
Of course, this all is made noteworthy by the fact that he chose that song. The crowd would have certainly loved if they heard the intro to “Good Life” or “Niggas in Paris”, but it would not be the same. They’re supposed to be there for those songs. But I think there’s something in every true Kanye fan that prefers his old stuff. The genuine joy and surprise the crowd must have felt must have just been phenomenal. In fact, of all the “old” songs that he could have played, that’s probably the perfect one because of its quality, disappearance in the anthology, and absolutely phenomenal intro with Syleena Johnson’s hook.
And, of course, all of this matter because of the man with the mic. That’s Kanye West. Right there. On stage. One of the most successful and influential entertainers of my lifetime. In those few seconds I could forget Kim, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, the Illuminati, and couture rap. I could even forget that he’s a musical genius and one of the greatest artists of the last ten years. I could set aside the fact that his new music, despite my dislike of it, is still brilliant.
Instead I’m left with a man, whose awkward younger self released a work of art ten years ago. For a few seconds he was that guy again, rapping with the crowd, a musical innovator rather than a hip-hop god. Not Yeezus, not even Yeezy. Just a young man with an immense amount of talent and the power to change music for the better.
Then the video ends, and that’s all gone again.
I guess that’s another beauty of short videos: you can watch them over and over.
Did I get too much from that?
It seems we living the American dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we a stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe
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Soli Deo Gloria