It’s either disgusting and a “disturbing reinforcement of rape culture”, according to Lena Dunham, the Girls creator, or has “the power of the artistic imagination to transcend”, according to the artist who influenced it, Vincent Desiderio.
The one thing we can be sure of is that Kanye West’s new music video, Famous, has caused huge offence to the famous – because they’re not in it.
Currently available only on the Tidal service, the video begins with a camera panning slowly over the nude, sleeping bodies of people who appear to be George W Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby.
Not much happens: grainy shots reveal their identities while West’s song Famous, which was released in April, blasts away in the background. We see the 12 nudes in a group shot at the end.
West has refused to reveal which of the dozen are real and which are played by lookalikes or are wax models. Spokesmen for Bush and Trump say they took no part in the video. West says he’d like any of the people in the video to sue him for using their likenesses without permission.
Most of the 12 are connected to West in some way. Trump is there because his presidential-election campaign has annoyed West so much that the rapper declared himself a candidate for 2020.
Wintour, the editor of American Vogue, is a vocal fan of West’s fashion line. West accused Bush, Barack Obama’s predecessor as president, of “not caring about black people” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Brown is placed next to Rihanna, his ex-girlfriend, whom he admitted assaulting in 2009. Beside Kardashian – West’s wife – is Ray J, an ex-boyfriend whom she made a sex tape with. And next to Ray J is Rose, West’s ex-girlfriend, who hasn’t had a good word to say about him since they broke up.
Beside West is Swift, who features in the lyrics to Famous: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”. A “source close to Swift” says that Taylor is “livid and horrified”.
Jenner is West’s stepfather-in-law. As for Cosby, who is facing a series of sexual-assault charges, West claimed earlier this year that the comedian is innocent.
There is speculation that two or more of the dozen are linked independently of West. Does that mean the fact that they are naked together in bed is no coincidence?
The video is based on a piece of art by Desiderio called Sleep, which itself is based on Jackson Pollock’s 1943 Mural. Desiderio pronounced himself speechless when he saw Famous. “Kanye saw things in my work that I don’t know how he could have seen,” he said. “He is truly an artist.”
Chris Brown has reacted to the video by saying that West is talented but crazy. He also bemoaned being portrayed as having a “plumber’s butt”.
A “source close to Rihanna” told Hollywood Life magazine that “there have been many mornings, afternoons, evening and nights where Ri’s laid in bed next to Chris pillow talking. And seeing Famous made her reminisce on those occasions.”
West was quick to point out that the video is a “comment on fame” and should not be taken as “either being in support or anti any of the people portrayed”.
Bush’s spokesman issued a statement declaring that “President Bush is in much better shape than his wax double in the video”.
The US chatshow hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel have already released parodies of Famous. Last Monday West screened the video on buildings around New York City.
Tidal’s subscription fee means there’s a clamour to see what all the fuss is about. If good art should be provocative, Famous has already done its job.