Kanye's 'Wolves' Isn't His First Time Mixing Art With Ads
Since its Valentine’s Day release early this year, Kanye West‘s musical blessing, The Life of Pablo, has been inseparable from the world of fashion. Take, for instance, the album’s first listening party. The event, broadcast live and streamed online in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd, doubled as an early bird NYFW event, showcasing (literally) hundreds of expressionless models wearing Yeezy season three. This past Friday, Kanye once again mixed cloth with media, releasing a new music video for Pablo standout “Wolves” that also happens to be the new FW16 Balmain campaign. The result is an ambitious video directed by lauded fashion photographer Steven Klein that’s part arthouse film, part runway show. Think vivid fashion-noir with some Blade sprinkled in.
Running a cool seven minutes, “Wolves” blends Balmain’s irrepressibly glitzy glamour—Kanye and Kim are wearing the same outfits they wore to this year’s Met Gala—with the song’s themes of depression, celebrity worship, and, as one might expect for an album so firm in its religiosity, gospel. Kanye, Kim, and a veritable who’s who of models and celebs—including Cindy Crawford, Kylie Jenner, Anna Cleveland, Jourdan Dunn, Jordan Barrett, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Sasha Luss, among others—show off their Balmain jackets and dresses, their tear-stained faces shimmering amidst (presumably paparazzi induced) flashes. Grammy-nominated rapper Vic Mensa delivers his verse sans shirt, posing palms forward in a manner that is both Christlike and evocative of the Black Lives Matter rallying cry. As if to emphasize the artistry of it all, the song is not capped by (conspicuously absent) Frank Ocean—he appears on the outro of another version of the song Kanye released—who was likely contractually-restricted by his recent Calvin Klein run, but by a minute-long credit roll. Bravo, bravo.
For Kanye, “Wolves” shows just how far his celebrity has come. Ten years ago, Kanye’s music video/commercial hybrid was “Where You At? (The Whole City Behind Us)”, a flip-phone ditty featuring fellow emcees The Game and Ludakris for Boost Mobile. And, while both ad campaigns feature tremendously catchy music, the target audience and creative vision behind the two couldn’t be more different.
As far as disruptions go, an ad campaign that serves as a music video and manages to do so quite seamlessly is pretty earth-shattering. The effect has been tried plenty of times—most recently when Young Thug turned his music video for “Turn Up” into a virtual lookbook for his girlfriend Jerrika Karlae’s swimwear brand—but rarely has it pulled off the balancing act necessary to advertise and entertain in equal measure.
In the end, the campaign is not a cynical cash-grab, but a long-brewing passion project. Since first working together in 2015, Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing and Kanye West have continuously praised one another. After calling The Life of Pablo his “favorite album ever,” Rousteing told Vogue that “Kanye has a great culture of what he thinks is cool in fashion, and I have my ideas. I think the mix of us made this jacket. Kanye loves denim, I love couture embroidery…mixing my point of view with his point of view made this jacket spectacular.” Therein lies the vital element of collaboration. Be it for music, art, or even advertising, there has to be a shared sense of creating something greater than the sum of its parts. Kanye’s collaborative fire defines his transcendent reputation across the art world.
Image via Balmain.
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