Music Video Breakdown: 'Fade' by Kanye West

We’re all just looking for an excuse to do it, so let’s talk about Kanye. The past month has seen a lot more Kanye than any month should have to, from his disastrous Yeezy Season 4 debut to his VMA speech to his new “Famous” art exhibit in L.A. The proverbial cake, however, must go to his new music video for “Fade,” starring Teyana Taylor and directed by Eli Russell Linnetz. For the full three minute and 44-second runtime, ’Ye pushes aside societal commentary on fame and fortune to take a good look at something much more personal: feminist ownership of sexuality over the past and into the future.

The “Fade” music video draws from many points of inspiration, encapsulating multiple eras of artistic sexuality in any single shot. For example, the first three minutes of the video show Taylor covered in oil and dancing amongst exercise equipment. This seemingly simplistic image actually draws upon sources like “Flashdance,” Jean-Paul Goude’s boxing photographs of Grace Jones, ’70’s and ’80’s porn (for the oily texture), the Olympics, and the NBA championship. Linnetz creates a powerful depiction of a modern woman literally covered in the past but at the same time intricately weaving throughout machines of the future. This type of historical interplay is also present in “Fade” itself, which uses sampled vocals from Rare Earth’s 1970 hit “I’m Losing You,” references Aaliyah’s 2001 “Rock the Boat,” and features Post Malone.

The historical conversation only lays the groundwork for Kanye’s exploration, however. The arc of the video is betrayed in the progression of positional associations. From the initial leaping through and around the machinery, Taylor begins to interact more with the exercise equipment, such as wrapping her body around a punching bag, symbolizing the sexuality of the past gaining agency in the present and power in the future.

The last 44 seconds, however, indicate how this type of sexual freedom will interact with established societal constrictions. When Taylor appears next in a shower with Iman Shumpert, she appears to be a submissive partner: He leans over her while they kiss, then she is kissing down his chest. Yet in the final shower scenes, she is either assertively clawing at his back or alone, sexually powerful and released from the constraints of her workout clothing.

The final shot cements this innovated sense of sexuality, focusing first on Taylor’s face, prosthetically made to resemble a lioness, then spanning out to cover Shumpert below her and their 8-month old daughter peeking out over an inexplicable herd of sheep—all in the original weight room. The feminine power of this image is complicated by the benignity of it. Taylor, the lioness, simply hovers over the sheep. Amid an obvious symbol of mob mentality, the assertiveness of her expression never toes over into aggressiveness. That she retains her feminine form, too, shows not an adoption of masculine power but rather a discovery of feminine assuredness. Both Taylor and Shumpert are shiniest here, signifying a grounding in the past while also suggesting the newest and best form of sexual comfort. The infant, completely uncaring of her surroundings, must also be understood to be the next generation, growing and thriving amidst such cultural conversations as the new norm. Thus Kanye revolutionizes our societal assumptions about feminism and encourages new growth in relevant and necessary conversations. Thanks, ’Ye.

—Staff writer Victoria E. Sanchez can be reached at victoria.sanchez@thecrimson.com.

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