Kanye West’s "Flashing Lights" video
That said, I really love this song so I was waiting patiently for this. It’s nowhere near what I expected, but I can’t say I’m disappointed — there is some really cool shit going on in this clip. The “Flashing Lights” video is pretty much his “Thriller,” or at least the closest thing he’s had to it so far.
What I think makes “Flashing Lights” his closest attempt at iconic music video is that fact that it’s so far left of what “Thriller” came to be emblematic of: namely, long-ass videos with cinematic flourishes and dialogue interspersed with the music. Trying to be like “Thriller” is what made a lot of hip-hop videos in the 90s (when rap was making huge movements and beginning to dominate MTV) really really bad, typical, and forgetable.
Here, Kanye goes the opposite direction and makes a video that, while spectacularly memorable, is shorter than the actual song. Instead of adding dialogue (or worse, attempting to act), the video’s imagery creates a massively creepy extrapolation of the song’s lyrics. “I never thought/ that you would take it this far/ what do I know?” sings Dwele. Yeah, no shit on the taking it this far part.
What “Thriller” is to widescreen, high-concept 80s cinema, “Flashing Lights” is to digital age hand-held, pocket-narrative short films made for cellphones and iPods. Movies made for cellphones and the like are typically filled with static or slow moving shots, with bare-bones narratives that operate much like jokes rather than 3-act narratives: there’s the setup, and then there’s the punchline, rather than a fullblown denoument and conclusion. In this, “Flashing Lights” is incredibly forward thinking, almost too much. And as far as cellphone cinema goes, still in its fledgling stages, “Flashing Lights” is one of the better ones I’ve seen so far.
The only thing that stops it short of being a landmark MTV video is that it hardly operates as a music video. There’s abolutely no performative aspect, instead banking on the story and, moreso, the ending. But the shocking conclusion really only works once and isn’t visually interesting enough to warrant repeat viewing. As well, because the video is shorter than the song, it can’t be watched as a substitute for playing the track. You’re only going to watch the video specifically for the video, and it doesn’t have the legs for constant rotation.
There are some visual idiosyncrasies that make the video more interesting, such as the pixellated lighter fluid, the slow motion stripping that is more ominous than sexy, a gagged Kanye in an impeccable suit, and the odd closing title card. But, despite the fact that I loved it, it’s not enough to make me watch over and over again like my favourite videos. Kanye nailed this one, but I hope he’s emotionally prepared to not win Video of the Year for it.