It’s hard to believe that prior to yesterday Kanye West had gone eight months without releasing new music. West has been a constant presence in the news: voicing support for Donald Trump at a concert, dying his hair platinum blond, being admitted into a hospital's psychiatric wing, being photographed with Donald Trump, dying his hair rainbow sherbert color and backpedaling his support for Donald Trump. (All planets revolve around the Sun.) In that time, West also released creative work: recuts of “The Life of Pablo,” a music video for his “Life of Pablo” song “Fade” and two fashion lines.
It was at the premiere of the fashion line Yeezy Season 5 last month that West debuted “Bed Yeezy Season 5,” a sparse 17-minute song about seduction. None of the vocals on the song come from West. Instead, the singing is done by The-Dream, who released an original version of the song (titled “Bed”) with J. Holiday in 2007.
The two songs are separated by 10 years but sonically they sound like they're from two different geological eras, as if a 2007 Honda Accord provided the groundwork for a 2017 self-driving Tesla. The minimal production, highlighted by thunderous synth notes and echoing Auto-Tune, is very much of the same style as “Yeezus” and “Life of Pablo.”
Here, though, industro-future aesthetics aren’t the backdrop for West to paint; they are the picture. The song is technically about sex, but like the clothes the song was originally paired with, “Bed Yeezy Season 5” is about style — a style that is dark, affluent and sad. The-Dream’s singing is erotic (“Love you til your eyes roll back/ Trying to put you to bed bed bed”), but the sexuality feels pixelated, devoid of intimacy. The song is looped, and with time it becomes ambient, any bit of pleasure becoming more elusive.
West is by nature contradictory: simultaneously brilliant and ignorant, compulsively self-aware and impishly impulsive. As a result, it’s always tough to tell whether he’s being read too critically or whether we’re missing some underlying meaning. It’s tempting to listen to “Bed Yeezy Season 5” and conclude that West’s roller-coaster past eight months have been about aesthetics: Could the hair, the dalliance with Trump and the photo op be a Bret Easton Ellis-style performance piece? Is this his dystopic period?
Maybe. Or maybe he’s not commenting on the moment, but simply reacting to modern stimuli. As West continues to distill his art, there’s more room to read into it. And what's there is both excitingly different and frustratingly so.