Kanye’s Just Fucking With Us Now, Right?

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Less than a year ago, after his drunken antics at the VMAs and a weird apology on Leno, Kanye West was the music world’s biggest punchline. The “I’ma let you finish” Internet meme powered its own Tumblr for over six months and still hasn’t completely died. And those who didn’t think it was funny were just plain pissed — we remember reading several calls for him to just get out of the music business altogether. Even President Obama took the time to call Kanye “a jackass.”

So, when you’re an undeniably talented but nearly universally maligned rapper who screwed up big-time for the entire world to see, how do you reclaim your narrative?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to come back with one of the strongest tracks of your career, or to name the thing “Power” and stuff it full of hyped-up backing vocals and King Crimson samples. Kanye’s return is fascinating: a hard-hitting hip-hop track with the sonic saturation of an arena-rock anthem. (Listen to the entire, five-minute epic here.) But while it’s full of boasts (“At the end of the day, goddamn, I’m killin’ this shit/I know damn well you’re feelin’ this shit.”) and “I’m back” signifiers (“I was drinkin’ earlier/Now I’m drivin'”), there’s some dark ambivalence there, too. The song ends with Kanye imagining what a “beautiful death, jumping out the window” would be.

“Power” also let us know that Kanye is fully aware of the way we think about him: “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation.” And a star with the intelligence to understands his public image is a star who has the power to manipulate that image to fuck with us (and send himself up, to endearing effect) — right, James Franco?

Remember the cover painting for the “Power” single, featuring Kanye’s cartoonishly big mouth?

Then, about a week ago, Kanye joined Twitter and started tweeting things so stereotypically “Kanye” as to be ridiculous: “Is it wrong to wear a CHANEL dinner jacket with a T shirt to the airport if it’s still breakfast time out here in Singapore uugh TOO LATE!”; “Fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on”; “No seriously … I said my teeth are real diamonds… these are not fronts… I replaced my bottom row of teeth with diamonds.”

And last night, during the first few minutes of Jersey Shore‘s hour (a detail that should not be lost on those of us making the Kanye-is-fucking-with-us case), he premiered the music video for “Power.” At under two minutes, the video only encompasses about one-third of the song’s runtime, and is, as Kanye informed us via Twitter, “a moving Painting!!!” It opens on a close-up of our hero, wearing a comically large gold medallion around his neck, and the shot slowly widens to include Greek columns, ladies dressed as satyrs, angels, and goddesses, all against a background that recalls a Renaissance-era painting of heaven. A man and a woman with swords lunge at each other. The whole thing moves in a stiff, mechanical way. And then the word “POWER” flashes across the screen in bright red. If you take the thing seriously, it’s horrible. But when you choose to read it as Kanye fucking with us — and by now, we’re pretty sure that’s what’s going on — it’s kind of brilliant.