Naked Women, Kanye West, and an Album of AutoTune

Kanye West has got a knack for provocation.

But this time he’s not storming stages, holding up fashion shows, or punching paparazzi.

No, this time it’s all about nudity.

With the upcoming November release of his new album 808s & Heartbreak already being anticipated in blogospheric proportions, the shutter glasses-clad rapper saw fit to host a listening party for the album that was decidedly raunchy.

The party featured more than 35 naked models standing amidst a bunch of music industry execs.

Was this inspired and clever? Or boring and redundant?

at the Ace Gallery in Hollywood, a warehouse-like space where a few hundred music industry types were herded up a ramp and confronted with about 35 motionless and completely naked (except for their high heels) ladies. But there was nothing to say to them, because we were all there to hear the world premiere of Kanye West’s forthcoming 808s & Heartbreak, with the stationary models as a sort of accompanying art installation, as imagined by Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft.

So what did Kanye have these nude women to do during the “party”?

Stand around for most of it. And then, a while later, sit down.

The women stood motionless as most of the album played out, backlit by a large, glowing screen controlled by a visual DJ in the corner. The crowd — which included hip-hop luminaries like Rick Ross and Will.i.am — gathered around the dimly lit gals in a semi-circle, as guards paced an invisible perimeter to make sure no one tried to engage the models.

But couldn’t this nude listening session be overly intellectualized and re-framed as an anti-establishment work of contemporary performance art?

Ah, why not…

West finally appeared after the album had run through in its entirety and offered some explanations. “I’ve always been a fan of Vanessa’s work and its strong imagery,” he told the crowd, explaining that Beecroft had only had a week to put the event together. “I liked the idea of nudity, because… in society, they tell us to wear clothes at a certain point… Crazy is anyone who breaks from the norm.”

Unfortunately, once the models are gone and the album is left to its own naked sonics, Kanye’s break from the norm is just an album’s worth of emo-rap filtered through the most normatively generic of pop music’s latest clichés: the ubiquitous Auto-Tune — a ProTools plug-in so ruthlessly annoying that it has convinced everyone from T-Pain to Lil Wayne that they can actually sing.

And Kanye’s made an entire album with it.

So, I’ll leave it to the millions of Yeezy fans out there to rip, burn, and remix this record into something praise-and-purchase-worthy but, for me, Kanye’s continually contrived attempts at originality are simply overwrought and uninspired.

And the purpose of the naked models was what again?

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