The new video for Kanye West’s “Bound 2,” the final track off his latest masterpiece, Yeezus, provoked discussion and controversy. Set against self-consciously generic backdrops—horses running, Monument Valley—that you might have used when making a fake music video at a birthday party in 1992, Kanye rides a motorcycle, on which soon appears his reality-TV-famous fiancée Kim Kardashian. They proceed to copulate (on the motorcycle) while he raps lyrics not fit for a family blog post. Most found it tasteless; others called it genius. New York art critic Jerry Saltz deemed it an example of “the New Uncanny,” which, okay. My take is that much as the song “Bound 2” caps off an album engaged with self-loathing (“Hold My Liquor”), self-aggrandizement (“I Am a God”), and the racist Man (“New Slaves”) by celebrating a twisted yet somehow totally pure and genuine brand of love, the video is a retort to those who question Kanye’s engagement to Kardashian, with whom he had a daughter a few months ago. It says, No, we are really in love, and if you think that’s tacky, please watch us have sex in front of something you think even tackier. (I guess I fall into the “genius” camp.)
But the “Bound 2” video came out more than a week ago—an Internet eternity. This week’s conversation has centered around “Bound 3,” a shot-for-shot remake, with the same soundtrack, starring popular young comic actors James Franco and Seth Rogen as Kanye and Kardashian, respectively. Reception has been at least as negative as the “Bound 2” video’s. New York’s Jody Rosen said it “sucks,” and for the same alleged reason that Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ blog, suggests we should find it homophobic: That it expects us to laugh at the fact that it substitutes a man-man romance for a man-woman one.
May I humbly posit that this is a total misreading—in several ways—of what Franco and Rogen were up to?
On a smaller level, I think the funniest part of the video is simply watching two actors do an incredible job (see for yourself how incredible) mimicking a video that had barely come out a week before—an impressive feat in its own right as well as a sly commentary on the Internet’s warp-speed metabolism. In particular, Franco’s ability to “do” Kanye is awe-inspiring.
As to Rogen: I don’t think the joke is that “Bound 3” replaces a woman with a man, but rather that it substitutes a gorgeous, toned human being with a slightly overweight, schlubby human being (with lots of back hair—which does gender the joke a bit, but not to an extent that overwhelms it). Kardashian may not quite be, as Kanye declared earlier this week, “the most beautiful woman of all time!” (or, he quickly hedged, “the top ten of human existence”). But she has never looked more stunning than in “Bound 2,” and not only because one has rarely seen more of her than in “Bound 2.” Whereas in “Bound 3,” Seth Rogen looks like … Seth Rogen. That, anyway, was what I was laughing at.
More broadly, I think to consider “Bound 3” a parody is misleading. It is an homage: A work that explicitly pays respectful tribute to something earlier and greater in order to make something new and comment upon the prior thing. We know this because we are told this at the very beginning, which contains the following words of explanation: “While on the set of their movie, The Interview, James Franco & Seth Rogen felt inspired to recreate their favorite new video.” In this instance, the latter work (we dorky English majors would call this the “hypertext”) serves to comment upon the earlier one (“hypotext”) in several productive ways: By establishing how committed Kanye was to his vision, never breaking character; by confirming that the Clip Art backgrounds are indeed intended to look silly, as they look no less silly in “Bound 3”; and, again, by reinforcing how beautiful Kardashian was in “Bound 2.” It’s an exercise in sincerity that argues for the sincerity of the thing it is paying tribute to.
What makes it potentially confusing is that both homage and parody must recreate what was distinctive about the original work. For this reason, I have always felt that good homages are also good parodies, and vice-versa. (Woody Allen’s Love and Death mocks the Russian novel’s sweep while also carrying you up in that sweep. Ezra Pound’s “The Seafarer” honors Anglo-Saxon poetry but also reminds you how ridiculously that poetry translates to the present day.) So while you may laugh at “Bound 3,” that is a measure of how much its creators respect “Bound 2.”
And anyway, Kanye loved “Bound 3.” So do I. So should you. After all these long-ass verses, I’m tired, you’re tired, watch it: