So yes, Kanye West has made a music video with a topless Kim Kardashian, fiancée and mother-of-his-child and free-floating symbol for the dystopia our lives have become. And yes, the music video – set to “Bound 2,” the extremely heartfelt and totally weird love song that ends Yeezus – is about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian riding a motorcycle in front of green-screen images of Monument Valley and space, which makes it look a little bit like a ’70s biker-gang Roger Corman movie shot inside of an iMac screensaver. And yes, you could argue that this music video is basically a softcore porno about Kanye West making wuv to Kim Kardashian on a motorcycle.
It’s hilarious. It’s barely watchable. It’s a serious argument for Saturday Night Live turning “Waking Up With Kimye” into a weekly segment. It is semi-delusional. But could it be that the “Bound 2” music video is also sneakily profound? That Kanye West, in attempting to create a document of his romance, has also somehow deconstructed that romance? That, in the process of gazing lovingly into his own navel, the rapper also wound up discovering new corners of the human heart? Is “Bound 2” actually an anti-love story? Or could it be arguing that all love stories are anti-love stories? Could it be the entire story of Creation and Entropy, of the human condition, of the sacred and the profane, of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and the Book of Revelations?
Let’s take a look.
The camera cuts quickly across the landscape, around different ecosystems, to a rushing river. Very Terrence Malick. The world is empty. This could be a clip from the Discovery Channel before it sold out. This could be the Garden of Eden.
The first sign of life is this hilariously maybe-animated black bird, flying up and away from the camera. It seems like a bad omen. Black birds. Crow. Lifeless tundra. Camera effects that a fifth grader with iMovie could improve on.
White horses. In slow motion. I hardly need to remind you that in the Book of Revelation/that song by Johnny Cash, the White Horse is ridden by the first Horseman of the Apocalypse. Hence, “Bound 2” must be understood as an apocalyptic vision. And there are seven horses, possibly as a reference to the regular appearance of the number “7” in Revelations, and possibly because Kanye West’s world is so awe-inspiring that it requires seven apocalypses to destroy. (Apocalypti?)
We cut to a wide shot showing the horses…but wait! Now there’s only one white horse! Moving at normal speed! We have entered a new phase of “Bound 2” – what I am going to call “real time.” The prologue was either a vision of the future or a deep flashback to the past. Or both. Time is a wheel.
We cut to Monument Valley, a location emebedded deep in the American spirit. A favorite setting for movie westerns, Monument Valley can be understood as a symbol of new beginnings (the frontier) but also as a symbol of nothingness (a place unfit for life except in the most extreme sense of the word.)
Kanye again, now in a secondary pose where he will spend most of the video. Let’s separate Kanye 1 (floating through space) from Kanye 2 (astride the motorcycle) and assume for a moment they represent two separate entities. Kanye 1 floats above the action, commenting upon it; Kanye 2 is all action. For most of “Bound 2,” Kanye 2 never takes his hands off of the motorcycle, even when there are things happening around him that would perhaps lead a lesser man to remove at least one of his hands from the motorcycle. He is a vision of pure momentum, although notable he is pointed left – which, in visual terms, denotes negative space, going backwards and not forwards.
And now we get to the nominal subject of this video. Recognizable even when rendered as pure negative-space silhouette: Kim Kardashian. Worth pointing out that Kanye gives her an introduction that vaguely resembles Brigitte Bardot’s in And God Created Woman. Worth pointing out that Kanye West and Roger Vadim both make cheesy-artsy visual tone poems about the women they love. (Much like “Bound 2,” And God Created Woman is partially about how beautiful the lead actress is but also about how the lead actress is a source of misanthropic entropy for the men in her life.) Also, take note of the fact that in this shot – as in every shot of this video when it first debuted on Ellen – there is an “ellen” stamp in the corner. I would argue that this is entirely purposeful on the part of Kanye West. He purposefully went on the loveliest talk show with the most charming and gee-whiz talk show host, specifically so that he could debut his sexualized Bonnie & Clyde self-deconstruction behind a family-friendly veneer. This song, after all, is about trying to become a family man. This video, I would argue, is about failing.
From there, the video spends 25 seconds alternating between three tiers: Kanye 1 floating through ambient greenscreen, Kanye 2 on the motorcycle, and the Kardashian silhouette. Finally we get a close-up on Kim, doing basically the Platonic Ideal of “Kim Kardashian Giving The Camera A Kim Kardashian Look.” We know who Kanye is rapping to. But who is Kim looking at? Kanye? The camera? The people behind the camera? This is the central tension of “Bound 2.” The more Kanye looks, the less he knows.
But now they are together on the motorcycle. Kanye is not alone anymore. The background shifts from arid desert to green forest. For the briefest possible moment, they are both going in the same direction.
This is the moment when everything changes. Charlie Wilson comes on the soundtrack, singing the bridge: “I know you’re tired of loving, of loving/with nobody to love, nobody, nobody.” On the surface level, this is when the music video enters its mawkish phase, when it becomes a video fully in praise of the wonder that is Kim Kardashian. On an even more surface level, this is when they start copulating on a greenscreen motorcycle. On a deeper level, though, this is when the whole video becomes problematic. The closer they get to each other, the less eye contact they make. The more tender Kanye’s words become, the more cosmically distant his love seems.
This looks like the album cover for the debut album by a werewolf prog-rock band. Who the hell rides a motorcycle holding the handlebars palms up? Kanye is all out of sorts. The Kanye-narrator “Bound 2” attempts to confidently describe the pleasures of monogamy. But there’s no confidence here, only a distance.
Kanye 1, still far removed from all the action, intones one word: “Bound.” It doesn’t read like a declaration of love. Keep in mind: We just cut from a montage of world-famous female human Kim Kardashian writhing on Kanye West’s lap. This is the moment when nearly any man on earth would say something besides “Bound.”
The key moment of the entire video: A close-up on Kim that is hilariously inappropriate and yet thematically rich. A GIF of this shot would show her gyrating hither and thither – nominally because of the motion of the motorcycle, although it doesn’t look like that to anyone over the age of 12. In the throes of faux-ecstasy, she looks not at Kanye, but at the camera. She breaks the fourth wall. Who is this look for? Kanye, who made the video? Or for the viewer?
The main rap segment of “Bound 2” wraps up with an optimistic lament about the state of a relationship. “We made it, Thanksgiving/So hey, maybe we can make it to Christmas…Maybe we could still make it to the church steps.” The ultimate declaration of love, such as it is, is actually a statement of resignation: “I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept.” At this moment in the video, Kanye 1 and Kanye 2 both make the Jesus sign – this is the only point when Kanye 2 lets go of the motorcycle’s handlebars.
The act of giving in becomes, for a moment, an act of triumph. They leave the ground; they are back in the sky. With Kanye’s arms outstretched like that, he seems to be flying. It’s a moment of genuine tenderness.
Through it all, Kanye remains resolute in his cross posture. Now, it’s always difficult to reach too much into the Jesus imagery of Kanye West, partially because Kanye’s metaphors usually mean three things, partially because it’s not clear that Kanye is aware Jesus did more stuff than just die and walk. But let’s take it seriously for a second. He’s Jesus here: Who’s doing the crucifying? Usually it’s some combination of the media and the audience. But they aren’t in this video. Kim Kardashian is. In “Bound 2,” then, monogamy – or at least, Kardashiogamy – might actually be a form of death.
No, she’s still there. In fact, the camera is even closer on her now. Eerily close, in fact. We have entered a new phase of the story of this video. The notion of Kim-as-Cosmic-Goddess-Earth-Mother-Subject-Of-Male-Gaze now exists at a remove.
…but here’s another Kanye, back on earth, in Monument Valley, rapping up into the sky. Could it be that this is Kanye’s vision of himself: Removed forever from the divine, from a happy image of a couple encoupled? Left behind, like those people who are left behind in that book about how God leaves people behind after the apocalypse? I think it was called The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down?
…she has to rejoin him here on earth. The heavens are closed off to both of them now. They have anchored each other in the world of the banal. They are never welcome back in Eden. They are bound together. A happy image, but also a sad one: As the rest of the video has shown, they are moving in the same direction but looking in opposite directions. They can never truly know each other. There is a great void between them, a chasm between their souls…