Kanye West Gets Dark and Political on SNL
In true finale fashion, Saturday Night Live didn't mess around with the season's closing episode--and the musical guest successfully (and rightfully) upstaged not only the host and the cast and every single performer that hit the stage before him in recent memory, but the departure of STEFON, and that's saying something.
Friday, Kanye used the fronts of 66 buildings as the collective canvas for debuting "New Slaves," the first single off his forthcoming Yeezus. Saturday night, imagery played a huge part not only with "New Slaves" but "Black Skinhead" on SNL, the first time this season that visuals were incorporated into the musical guest's performance. Though the snapping jaws of a pack of wolves and "NOT FOR SALE" graphics served as brazen and impossible to ignore backdrops for Kanye, the rapper d e c i m a t e d SNL and any expectations viewers could've possibly had for his new material and how that'd play out in such a controlled setting. That stage transformed into the floor of an arena last night, one that broadcast the beats and drops that'll serve as the blueprint for countless playlists and copycats in the coming months.
Up first (and after a weird, self-deprecating intro from host Ben Affleck), "Black Skinhead:" Kanye flew through its stanzas, his own howls and shrieks to meter the swings and landed punches of the track. "Black Skinhead" samples Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People" (and plenty picked up on the '90s goth rock vibe, but we'll get to the Twitter shit show in a minute). Between that and the fact that the entire stage was completely absent of light save for Kanye's face (occasionally) and the snarling beasts projected on the wall behind him, something dark and sinister was curling up through the speakers and into our ears--and it totally fucking worked. That beat's insatiable, each verse provokes and Mr. West is nothing if not a consummate perfectionist at the mic. Interested in reading through the lyrics? Scope West's Twitter account; as reported by Hip Hop Wired, he tweeted the lines to the song shortly after hitting the dressing room after his performance.
The calculating darkness of "Black Skinhead" stuck around for "New Slaves" as West stood solemnly and centered, this time with his own narrowed eyes serving as the projected backdrop behind him. "You see its leaders and there's followers/ But I'd rather be a prick than a swallower;" "Y'all 'bout to turn it up/I'm 'bout to tear it down/ I'm 'bout to air it out/ Now what the hell they gonna say now?"--it's clearly a promise and not a prediction for what we can expect from Yeezus, and as we're left with Kanye standing solo at the mic with a spotlight trained on his unblinking face, this unwavering, unsettling intensity is the a profound vision to behold as the "New Slaves" lyrics scroll into the ether and imprint your subconscious. This depth hasn't been reached yet this season on Saturday Night Live. Justin Timberlake's performance is the only one that comes remotely close to touching on that level of engagement and skill, but JT's message and delivery stuck to the safe grip of pop prose and romance without a shred of political thought behind it, and that's why Kanye's blunt, abrasive brilliance outshines Golden Boy of the Perfect Vision hand over closed fist.
ANYWAYS HERE ARE SOME JOKES. (I have no idea how to make a smooth transition between deep thought and LOL-worthy Twitter screengrabs.) Plenty of people freaked out about everything from West's commentary on bi-racial couples to the blasphemy of naming an album Yeezus, but the majority were in agreement that West's SNL performance was the stuff of legend.