By Kanye West and Lily Allen
This week two new music videos came out, one from Kanye West, for the song “Bound 2”, and one from Lily Allen, for the song “Hard Out Here”.
In his video, Kanye is sitting on a motorbike, seen from the side, and his fiancée Kim Kardashian is sitting on him, naked. The rocking of the motorbike means they are given plenty of opportunity to simulate having sex, which Kanye appreciates by scowling. If no-one remembers Kanye’s random appearance in Duck Sauce’s Barbara Streisand video, here is a picture of the trademark unhappiness.
In the song Kanye explores his conception of the nature of love between a man and a woman. He begins the process with his opening line, “When a real n– hold you down, you supposed to drown.” Exactly what kind of love is it that Kanye admires? The connotations are undoubtedly sexual, but for me also hint at the idea of being bound, as in the title; picture Kanye holding on to Kim tightly and jumping with her into a lake, stonily staring ahead as they sink to the bottom, Kim gratefully drowning in her lover’s grip.
If we look closer at the title we see that it leads us straight into an ambiguity that Kanye finds at the heart of love. Although he is bound to love Kim, because she is wonderful, and so on, he is also bound to Kim, quite strongly by society now, because he is engaged to her. All this seems quite unfortunate to him, because he actually finds her quite annoying. “I’ll turn the plane around, your ass keep complaining,” he raps, with a glare over his shoulder at the serene Kim, now on his back. He continues, “how you gon’ be mad on vacation?” To this Kim is allowed no response but to caress him and stare into the camera as if she can’t hear a word he’s saying.
In the chorus, Kanye brings up an issue that seems to have been on his mind for a while. Women are too loving for their own good. “I know you’re tired of loving, of loving, with nobody to love.” Poor Kim, she has so much love in her, it’s gushing out like blood from a neck wound. She can’t control it, even when there’s no-one around, there she is, crying out with love and she’s tired of it. Kanye, the Messiah he is (Yeezus), steps in to fill her need to love someone. I’m here now, you little love machine, give me your love, and after I “fuck you hard in the sink”, I’ll “give you something to drink”. In response to all this Kim does as any good female partner must do, (see the resignation in this wife’s eyes), she says nothing. Stay silent, love Kanye, ride on his motorbike, be naked. The woman’s complete disempowerment in this video is perhaps not best epitomised in the image of her lying on her back but in the fact that the song’s only female singing voice repeats “Uh-huh honey” throughout the piece. To be honest, from what we’ve learned from Kanye earlier about Kim’s relentless criticism, a vocalisation of mindless female agreement is probably what he hears in his deepest, most private dreams – nothing but a chorus of submission. But if this video is anything to go by, he already has it.
So yes, for Kanye, “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”, and Kim is that girl. As long as she rides him on a motorbike, keeps quiet and lets him ask for a threesome (“you ever asked your bitch for other bitches?”). But hey, at least he doesn’t “get spunk on the mink”. Treats her like a queen.
Over in the world of Lily, different things are happening. Much like Pink’s 2007 song “Stupid Girl”, Lily’s “Hard Out Here” succeeds at both making a point and being funny. The video involves her polishing a car wheel rim in the kitchen and a group of dancers (the race question has been overblown – although four of the dancers are black, one is Asian and one is white) shaking their booty all over the place, with slow motion replays of bum slapping galore. At first sight, of course, it’s basically the same as Kim’s sexual bumping on the motorbike, but the lyrics and the knowing winks are where the difference lies.
When the word bitch is dropped onto the beat in the first chorus, it’s not in the way Kanye would fling the word around hither and thither, it’s precise and effective, it’s undoubtedly a manifestation of the taking back of the word by women from its negative connotations that has been ongoing for a long time.
When she asks, “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?” you can almost hear Kim screaming yes, oh yes, I need someone I can use up my love on for nothing in return but sexual objectification! But I expect the direction of the video was not really up to Kim, and we shouldn’t criticise her too harshly – in all probability it was done by someone a bit like the man in the suit in Lily’s video, telling her how to polish the wheel rim with more leaning desire. Kim would probably agree, it’s hard out here for a bitch.
So there we have it. We have one video, and then we have its behind-the-scenes counterpart, both coming out in the same week. And to crown it all, in one of the best, most British-ironic comebacks imaginable, Lily does a little dancing in front of silver balloons that say “Lily Allen has a baggy pussy.” If that doesn’t make Thicke and Kanye get just a little hot under the collar, let a little doubt creep into their minds, let a sweeping sadness overwhelm them, a realisation that they’ve been on the wrong side all along, we’ll have to wait still a little longer.