Kanye West is set to receive the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award this Sunday during the 2015 MTV VMAs and frankly, it’s been a long time coming.
West has consistently released some of the most influential and experimental videos in music history, exploring art, animation, special effects, social issues, and even wife Kim Kardashian.
To be a great artist often means pushing the envelope, an idea that West has never shied away from. To celebrate Kanye’s Video Vanguard Award, we’re looking at his 10 most controversial music videos.
10. Diamonds From Sierra Leone, 2005
Diamonds From Sierra Leone is significant for a few reasons. It marks the first time West and director Hype Williams worked together, with their collaborations now spanning over twenty music videos. It also introduces West as a socially conscious rapper, in this case using his music and music video to shine a light on a group of people being exploited and enslaved in the 21st Century.
9. Jesus Walks, 2004
West released three different videos for his 2004 song Jesus Walks, all with powerful imagery of people who have been cast out by mainstream society. In Version Two, West compares the staggering rate of incarcerated black men in America to 17th Century slavery, with scenes of a chain gang and a member of the KKK shown side by side.
8. All Of The Lights, 2011
All Of The Lights is the first of three Kanye West music videos that come with a warning for causing seizures, followed by In Paris and Cold. You’d think one would be enough…but nope.
7. Monster, 2011
After being leaked six months before its scheduled released, West uploaded his video for Monster in June 2011 with the disclaimer “the following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and it shall be taken as such.” That’s nice, but the video is still a terrifying look at how violence against women is glorified in pop culture.
6. Bound 2, 2013
It’s difficult to not feel uncomfortable and frankly creepy while watching West and his naked wife Kim Kardashian ride a motorcycle together. Like that. In that way. It’s weird.
5. No Church In The Wild, 2012
The disturbing Romain Gavras-directed video for No Church In The Wild is a harrowing look at civil unrest in the 2000s. The video was shot in Prague, but sadly could have been filmed in most countries around the world, with citizens and police confrontations often ending violently.
4. Touch The Sky, 2006
Kanye West’s ode to Evel Knievel landed him with a $1 million production budget, making Touch The Sky one of the most expensive music videos ever made, and a lawsuit from Knievel. The suit was eventually dropped after West visited Knievel in 2007 before his death and the two made peace.
3. Flashing Lights, 2008
Again not happy with only one option, West filmed three different videos for his 2008 single Flashing Lights. The most well-known version showed model Rita G walking in slow motion through the desert before revealing West bound and gagged in the trunk of a car. The video cuts out just as Rita G delivers what the audience assumes in a deadly blow to West. The impact of Flashing Lights is still being felt in music videos today, with The Weeknd recently releasing his video for Tell Your Friends with a similar, eerie concept.
2. Power, 2010
In what West describes as a ‘moving painting’, the Marco Brambilla music video for Power features an almost demonic looking West surrounded by supermodels. As the video slowly pans out, viewers are again left to watch as West receives what we assume is a deadly blow as the camera cuts out. Power was unlike any other video that had been viewed in mainstream media at the time and still today, ushering in a new standard for musicians and filmmakers.
1. Runaway, 2010
The Runaway music video was the inspiration behind West’s short film of the same name, which used West’s 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the soundtrack. Although the video doesn’t appear controversial or shocking at first glance, it’s a true testament to the impact West has had on both rap and pop culture. If Wes Anderson and Spike Lee made a film together, it would likely look an awful lot like Runaway.