December 25, 2013 Music Video

It seems that controversy follows Kanye West wherever he ventures, from his infamous and intrusive on-stage rant during a Taylor Swift acceptance speech to the video[1] for his single Bound 2,[2] featuring partner Kim Kardashian.

Christine Sams, the Entertainment Writer for The Age, describes the video as ‘sickening’ and ‘truly shocking’ on account of West’s ‘objectification’ of his post-natal fiancée. A clearly incensed Sams writes: ‘…as a parent, an aunty and someone who actually respects the rights of women, I’ve had enough. I am truly outraged by this clip. It actually left me feeling sick because of its objectification of women’. [3]

But is this interpretation not problematic, particularly at a juncture where the notion of women’s rights, and, conversely, their “objectification” is widely debated, irreducibly complex and constantly shifting? Does it not fail to sufficiently account for the possibility that Kim Kardashian’s fame is in no small part the product of various forms of shameless self-promotion, vis-à-vis an infamous sex-tape (which Sams, to her credit, acknowledges), as well as a semi-nude Playboy photo-shoot and a narcissistic television serial? Pursuing this line of thought, can one not conjecture that Kim Kardashian was, pre-Kanye West, already an iconic example of the celebrity as virtual object:? Cosmetically enhanced, photographically airbrushed, media-saturated.

At the dawn of the twentieth-century, French artist Marcel Duchamp defied the art world with the pre-existing artwork (or “readymade”): the mass-produced and pseudonymously signed urinal, Fountain (1917). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Kardashians defied the world of television drama with their self-absorbed and self-indulgent serial Keeping up with the Kardashians (2007-present). In this televisual family universe, whose major planet is indisputably Kim, it is not depth or substance that makes for enticing entertainment but affluence, excess, unashamed narcissism and nauseating exhibitionism. I can recall an episode in Season One where younger sister Khloe defends Kim’s perky, curvaceous derrière from mocking criticism by retorting ‘she doesn’t have a jiggly ass. Her ass makes money, honey!’ Objectification, it transpires, begins at home; well before the emergence of Kanye West on a stationary motorcycle.

Thus, reading the latter’s Bound 2 through the exclusive filter of “objectification” is akin to interpreting a Quentin Tarantino film through the lens of on-screen violence: it results in a reductive and one-dimensional interpretation that fails to account for the array of references and plethora of meanings that are in play.

For this writer, Bound 2 is shocking in its exorbitance of information. The video is a postmodern soufflé of signifiers: the cool transparency of sex; the ecstasy of speed; the vast, disjunctive iconography of the American dream; the cinematic brilliance of its landscapes and ecology (ancient canyons, verdant valleys, pristine forests, sublime peaks, crystalline lakes, optimistic skies, soaring eagles, wild stallions); the cool, digitalised flattening of substance and depth; the libidinous, testosterone-fuelled joyride of vehicular freedom. Viewing this clip, I was left with the peculiar feeling of having seen and heard too much, but most of it both agonisingly familiar and strangely confounding.

Director Nick Knight’s eclectic imagery (part road-movie, part fashion shoot, part shampoo commercial) set to Kanye West’s assorted sampling of musical genres (rap, soul, pop country – including the slinky, infectious line “Uh-huh, honey” from Brenda Lee’s 1959 rendition of Ronnie Self’s Sweet Nothin’s), brings to mind the words of Jean Baudrillard from his pseudo-philosophical, quasi-travel guide America (1986):

That is the originality of the deserts of the American West; it lies in that violent, electric juxtaposition. And the same applies to the whole country: you must accept everything at once, because it is this telescoping that gives the American way of life its illuminating, exhilarating side, just as, in the desert, everything contributes to the magic of the desert. If you approach this society with nuances of moral, aesthetic, or critical judgement, you will miss its originality, which comes precisely from its defying judgement and pulling off a prodigious confusion of effects. To side-step that confusion and excess is simply to evade the challenge that it throws down to you. The violence of its contrasts, the absence of discrimination between positive and negative effects, the telescoping of races, technologies, and models, the waltz of simulacra and images here is such that, as with dream elements, you must accept the way they follow one another, even if it seems unintelligible; you must come to see this whirl of things and events as an irresistible, fundamental datum. [4]

Perhaps it is this indeterminate excessiveness, this perplexing juxtaposition of contrasting effects that accounts for Kanye West’s and Kim Kardashian’s irresistible appeal and lucrative marketability. In a post-millennial age where “reality” dissolves in an obscene profusion of images and sound-bites – what Baudrillard calls the ‘pornography of information’[5] and ‘the stereophonic effect’[6] of music –  this West Coast power couple’s high-speed, high-profile, gratuitously explicit, Californicating[7] music and lifestyle defies the parameters of morality, taking us on a synthetic trip beyond good and evil into the high-definition and hi-fidelity world of simulation. Incidentally, this is the same artificial, hyper-real fate that Baudrillard ominously envisioned for music during the late eighties in The Ecstasy of Communication (1987):

We are all obsessed with high fidelity, with the quality of musical reproduction. At the consoles of our stereos, armed with our tuners, amplifiers and speakers, we mix, adjust settings, multiply tracks in pursuit of a flawless sound. Is this still music?[8]

It is ironic that a music video that boasts a smorgasbord of sources (including its predecessor Bound, a 1971 song by American soul group Ponderosa Twins Plus One) should find itself subjected to simulation, courtesy of James Franco’s and Seth Rogen’s hilarious, shot-by-shot parody Bound 3. If this homoerotic translation of Kanye’s and Kim’s Monument Valley adventure attests to anything, it is perhaps what Jacques Derrida calls “the engendering of infinitely new contexts without any centre of absolute anchoring”.[9] In other words, from the moment of its conception to its virulent distribution, Bound 2 is implicated within, and prone to amplify, a limitless network of quotations – beyond the authority and sovereignty of its signatories. With its synthetic eclectic, audiovisual trip, Bound 2 compels a consideration of the paradox of representation: tied and unfettered, stable and unconstrained, idle and itinerant. Bound(less).


– Dr. Varga Hosseini




[1] K.West, ‘Bound 2’, Yeezus, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2013.

[2] Bound 2, music video, Def Jam Recordings, New York, 2013.

[3] C. Sams, ‘Kanye West, naked Kim Kardashian on Bound 2 clip is sickening’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2013, viewed 21 November 2013, <>

[4] J. Baudrillard, America, Verso, London and New York, 1989, p. 67.

[5] J. Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2012, p. 26.

[6] J. Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, Standford University Press, California, 1994, p. 5.

[7] Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication, Warner Bros., 1999.

[8] Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, p. 5.

[9] J. Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1982, p. 320.