I don’t know how I missed the song. I can understand how it was that I missed the video, which gives me a massive headache whenever I see it and can trigger seizures for some viewers. The song, though, is precisely the sort of rap song that someone of my interests and background would appreciate. Three of the many artists involved on the song were given featuring credit, the lead, Kanye West, on whose album it appeared, Rihanna, who sings a gorgeous chorus about I will have more to say, and Kid Cudi, who sings a hook that is repetitive but tuneful that encourages people to get their own and not be envious of those who already have what they are looking for in terms of relationship and success, a worthwhile message. The song is a complicated one and is one that I am surprised I missed, for even though I was in a foreign country when this song appeared and 2011 is not a particularly well-represented year among music I have familiarized myself with, this is definitely a song whose value and worth would not have been too hard to gather even on a first listen. I suppose I did not get even that.
The first part of the song that strikes the interest is the complexity of its structure. The song begins with a beautiful and melancholy cello solo that lasts about a minute–a good way for any song to begin. The next minute is taken up by the chorus and opening hook sung by Rihanna that shows the siren’s song of wealth and success that one gets through exposing one’s privacy to the bright lights and harsh glare of the contemporary celebrity culture. After this Kanye sings two verses (each of them finished with Rihanna solos) that contrast the death of Michael Jackson with a story that frames him as a devoted father whose struggles with violence against his wife and a guy who she cheated with leave him unable to be a good father to his young daughter who he is unable to protect from a hard life because of his own mistakes. The song contains an outro after the bridge with a ridiculous amount of talented vocalists and closes with instrumental chaos that fits the chaos and complexity of the message of the song.
And what is the message of this song? The message is a complicated one and has a few layers that are worth exploring. For one, Kanye is singing as a not entirely sympathetic figure, a man who admits to hitting his girlfriend and paying the price for it in terms of jail time, legal fees, and child support after she leaves him. The combination of his love for his child and his frustration at not being able to protect her from the generational patterns of fatherlessness  are balanced by the hatred that he receives from his girlfriend’s family over him being a bully and a deadbeat. This layer of intense meaning is overlaid with another layer of meaning that contrasts the violence and poverty of the ghetto with the vulnerability and intense hostility that one suffers as a result of being in the limelight, where our flaws are out in the open and those who like to prey on the vulnerable among the celebrity class can tear into those weaknesses and flaws to the joy of envious haters who love to see those who have money and cultural authority be taken down a few notches and exposed at their most blameworthy and their most ridiculous.
Sometimes it is hard for us to see celebrities as people. We have a tendency to put them on a pedestal when we think well of them and to demonize them when we think ill of them. When we think that their personal lives are generally decent and we find ourselves in agreement with their causes and opinions and appreciate their talent, we view them as something beyond the human. It is not for nothing that we call them idols. But like all idols, they will fail us and fall short of our messianic expectations and when we are disappointed in them, we put on them the weight of our unrealistic and ungodly expectations and see them as something less than human. All along, though, they were human beings not unlike ourselves. To be sure, they had gifts and talents that gained them a good living and a great deal of goodwill and cultural power, but whether they were doing well or doing badly they were human beings with flaws and weaknesses and vulnerabilities like ourselves. They neither deserve our adoration or our contempt. They may deserve some degree of limited respect and appreciation and more than a little bit of our compassion and even pity. We may look at their talent as well as their weaknesses and see more than a bit of our own, if we are wise. Under all of the lights, we may not fare any better ourselves.
 See, for example: