brief rant on postmodernism, The Life of Pablo

i don’t have the intellectual, historical, or cultural chops to reliably back up any claims i make about postmodernism – or any facet loosely related to general art movements or the like. so, as in my other rants, it’s just going to be more long-winded pretentious stuff that is more how i feel than anything.

i’ve always – perhaps inadvertently – connected the concept of postmodernism with the fusion of low art and high art. i realize that most of the tenants of the concept of postmodernism are more about self-consciousness and autonomous works and contextualizing art and such, but this is something that i feel has risen – particularly in the 20th century – alongside the movement, to the extent that i would classify them together in my admittedly under-educated opinion. but the crazy thing is that this seems to be approaching some unstoppable limit of the fusion between these juxtapositions – and one of the big examples i can think of is everything related to The Life of Pablo.

not just in terms of lyrical content or anything, but the synthesis and abrasive concoctions of all of these contrasting elements just screams arty postmodernism more than anything else in recent years. i’m surely not the first to notice these things. we can all note the nutty placing of “Father Stretch My Hands Part I” – bleached asshole line and all – immediately after the arty gospel-rap-soul-R&B-whatever track “Ultralight Beam” and question what in the world kanye west could have been thinking. the album is filled with such contradictions; and ye’s insistence of his work being gospel album that works to diss people he has no reason to diss anymore (ray j, taylor swift) more than an album explicitly about anything “gospel” only fuels such perplexing reactions.

is religion at the core of these contrasting ideas? well, to some extent yes. surely religious people will be the first to call out these contradictory ideals. and kanye makes no effort to hide them – his albums are laced with profanity, worldly desires, etc. but then again, so are most peoples’ thoughts, actions, and sometimes even works. i don’t expect to be seen as a revolutionary for this line of thinking as it’s almost laughably elementary, though i think it’s something to consider with all these contradictions all over the place in the modern artistic world.

another blogger, DozensOfDonuts (who writes reviews on albums), pointed out the moment which he considered almost a turning point in this postmodern limit was during the release party of The Life of Pablo; where, after the album had played, the excessively bourgeois, rich, hipster brooklynites half-heartedly grooved out to a new young thug song “With That” with kanye and the models from his latest fashion series looking stoic, dressed in military-like fashion, with extreme vulgarity blared throughout the multimillion dollar auditorium. as DozensOfDonuts remarks, this was the moment where he realized how far hip hop had come – from poor inner city kids making untrained music to the apex of postmodern musical irony. it’s truly a fascinating sight to see.

a large aspect of this i believe is the advent, surge, and domination of trap. from what started as T.I.’s own branding of “just another subgenre of hip hop” (well, southern hip hop really, but you get the idea) to the limitless gucci mane mixtapes in the mid 2000s to the rise of atlanta as a musical capital, trap’s evolution went on unnoticed in the background with regards to any sort of high art in the art world. stuckism rages on, radiohead gets its praise, pta and weerasethekul skyrocket in the art scene, etc. and along comes the lowest-of-the-low art – a genre that is repetitive, rarely ever focused on lyricism, recommended for easy listening or dancing, easily consumed by the masses, etc. – to dominate the pop music stream for a few brief years.

and already we have various deconstructions of it that seem almost explicitly postmodern. it’s kanye west including a desiigner sample for his newest album that will surely be lauded by the inner city kids and the zeniths of pop music criticism. it’s young thug screaming, coughing, and squealing over art pop beats. it’s travis scott concocting a dreamy, abstract mixtape – again, kanye west is there. it’s all of these people that are at the pinnacle of the music game fusing such dissonant and wonky pairings to the point of abstract juxtapositions becoming the norm. lil yachty could have been predicted from a mile away.

of course, when i think of these high and low art comparisons, i don’t just think of trap. godard has been huge in popularizing this line of thinking; clips from the holocaust and pornagraphy and roman statues and b-movies are all over the place in his monumental Histoire(s) du cinema, which stands tall as a summary of not only cinema’s place in the world at the end of the 20th century, but also that of irony. of the very juxtaposition godard had been working with since Breathless – no, since his criticism, pitting sirk against bergman. it’s his mulling on art, politics, philosophy, and then his immaturity breaking through at every other moment. it’s contradictory, it doesn’t make any sense. it doesn’t make any sense how hip hop went from where it was to the “Famous” music video. those low-res digital shots and the old-style text over a black screen, alongside professionally made and photographed naked busts which call to mind ancient paintings. it’s the shockingly vulgar model line and the ethereal crooning of kid cudi over an old videotaped sunrise. it’s the cringeworthy lines of taylor swift being made famous by kanye and the delicate cinematography, concluding with the transcendent fadeout to the song in question.

it doesn’t make any sense.

it’s the people that put avant-garde films you’ve never heard of and won’t see alongside Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in their list of favorites. it’s the concept of patrician being someone who does this. it’s rich people buying streetwear. it’s so many things and it’s just so hard to understand any of it, to adequately put such perplexing contrivances into words.

and in many ways it’s an extension of how people operate. i’ve never understood people especially well, but i think it makes sense. all of this high art low art stuff seems to be the culmination of humanizing art, not necessarily contradicting itself for the sake of doing so but finding a very human element. we all have our own shades of “postmodernism” of course; $80 meals and fast food the next day. beethoven string quartets and rihanna. religious people who sin. it’s all just a part of how we are and how we cannot rationalize everything. not everything makes sense, and we try to understand our actions, perhaps in order to understand others’ too – and as an aside, this is where i think that these sometimes alienating ironic works can be extremely human for this very reason. but it’s futile. it’s us not understanding fully how socialites went to go see a black man release an experimental, trap-gospel hip hop album live through a speaker, while thousands watched in streams. we can study historical facts but how much can we really say “i understand how this happened, how we got here?”

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