There’s a wall between us and our favorite artists. What we know about them is usually what their managers, publicists, agents, and yes-men want us to know about them – whether it’s how much they contributed to a given song or what they’re really like as people. Maybe Beyonce wrote that slapdash post about how women get paid 80 cents for every dollar men earn; maybe it was someone else. And Rihanna seems like a perfect ray of sunshine, but for all we know she’s paying people right now to keep shut about the phone she threw at her maid yesterday.
Young Thug’s “Wyclef Jean” video, which dropped last Monday, breaks the finely manicured divide between Thug and his audience and exposes him as a petulant, childish rock star.
If you don’t know the story: Thug sent a recording of himself explaining the idea for the Jeffery opener’s video to firm Pomp & Clout, which spent $100,000 bringing Thug’s stoned ramblings to life. The rapper never showed up to the shoot, and when he finally pulled up, he found out his Instagram got hacked and drove away in anger. Director Ryan Staake released what he’d managed to film, mostly B-roll, interspersed with explanations of how the shoot went wrong.
The first interstitial: “Hi, this is Ryan Staake. I co-directed this video with Young Thug.” How often do we really get to know how much involvement an artist has in a work? We hear Thug rambling: “I want to do it in the Hills, like Manny said he wanted to do a lot of foreign cars, but I didn’t want to do foreign cars, I wanted to do kiddie cars…” The explanations are clear, and Staake and crew visualized them well, but there’s less than a minute of explanation, and none of it is very specific. He may even have made it up on the spot. “Co-directed” is generous.
Of course, artists get credited for shit they didn’t do all the time; pop stars usually get credited for songs they didn’t write for royalty purposes (and to make them seem more “talented,” no doubt). This trend is frustrating. I couldn’t give less of a shit if artists write their own songs or direct their own videos, but when I hear a really good song or see a good video, I want to know who was responsible for it and how their vision comes into play. I’m glad Staake revealed just how little Thug had to do, because I can safely say: Mr. Staake, good job. Thugger: tsk, tsk.
If what Staake says is true, Thugger demonstrated the behavior of a spoiled rock star who thinks his time is more valuable than anyone else’s. We learned this from Devin Friedman’s definitive GQ profile of the rapper, but there was only a dumb little article at stake then, not a potentially viral video whose ostensible purpose is to sell its creator. “Wyclef Jean” makes Thug look terrible. The rapper let Staake piss away $100,000 as he… gambled or slept, probably. As for him driving away: he must know that he has a whole team of people who can easily deal with an Instagram hack. His leaving seems to have been motivated by nothing but petty anger.
The end result is funny, yes. Its incomplete nature fits nicely with his trend of absurd videos. But the video, with its kiddie cars and poolside barbecue and child cops, would have been plenty batshit had Thug shown up. And you know what? I would rather see a finished product, with Thug there looking like a rock star, rather than him not being there and looking like an asshole.
Thug apparently approved the “finished” product (“I hope he likes the cut we made for him,” frets Staake in the video), and I’m not surprised in the least. Curious as it is, it’s not half the video it would have been had Thug showed up and a truly finished product been released. But it makes for some great headlines: “Watch The $100,000 Video Young Thug Didn’t Show Up For.” It adds a neat factoid to the Thug legacy: he didn’t show up to one of his own video shoots. Fans will no doubt parrot this fact to prove how their hero gives no fucks. What a rock star! What a dipshit.
Thug is my favorite rapper out right now. Jeffery was my favorite album of last year, though I underestimated it when I reviewed it for this site. I think he’s talented, unique, uncompromising, and getting better by the day. I understand the temptation to defend everything he does, because the reason some rap fans have for dismissing him (he uses Auto-Tune! he dresses like a girl!) are so stupid they make me want to positively evangelize about this guy. He’s worthy of praise because he’s a brilliant artist. Not because he didn’t show up for his own video shoot.