by Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver
"Oh just another lonely night / Are you willing to sacrifice your life?" [Bon Iver]
The song opens right up with talk of death, but the creep factor flowing from Justin Vernon's singing does nothing to prepare you for the music video.Deep Thought
The video for "Monster" is a barrage of shots inspired by horror movies. The victims are almost entirely skinny, pale, model-like women. Be warned: this video isn't for the faint of heart.
As soon as this video leaked, the debate on the internet naturally began to rage: is this video just a bit of campy horror, or is it horribly misogynistic? Here's a sample of the discussion: "Glamorizing violence against women this way as we enter 2011 isn't just potentially pretty offensive to a lot of people — it's played out and boring," said Entertainment Weekly. "I expect better from an artist as boundlessly creative as Kanye West." On the other hand, HitFix.com said the video "feels like a brutal reveal of West's psyche." Disgusted by the dead models, a writer at the Village Voice also proposed that important parts of it might also have been plagiarized from a 2008 video made by indie rocker Dr. Dog.
"Gossip, gossip, n---a just stop it / Everybody know I'm a mother--------- monster" [Kanye West]
The video makes the song look like a long complaint against female admirers, but the lyrics tell a different story.Deep Thought
Although 'Ye definitely doesn't fail to complain about a few individual women during "Monster," the "gossip, gossip" hook makes it clear that West's beef here is also with the culture of celebrity fandom in general.
We shouldn't need to remind you that West has been a big controversy-maker in recent years, causing his biggest waves yet at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards by snatching Taylor Swift's mic to make his own speech. He has also entertained everyone with his self-indulgent and occasionally inflammatory Twitter feed (West is in a tough running with rival 50 Cent for the rapper most able to garner attention through zany tweeting). All that gossip probably doesn't hurt record sales, but West is notoriously sensitive to what the press says about him. Although he's not always good at preventing it, he clearly doesn't want to be seen as a monster. These lines throw it back at his detractors and the press with a dose of bitter anger. He can't resist going on to brag, though. ("Profit, profit, n---a I got it" naturally comes next.) A fair complaint, or just the words of a whiny celebrity?
"Bought the chain that always give me back pain" [Kanye West]
Around the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West developed a fixation with Egyptian imagery and started wearing a huge pharaoh chain around.Deep Thought
Apparently the price tag for this thing was a few hundred thousand dollars, and it gives him back pain? Doesn't make a lot of sense to us. But a song called "Chain Heavy," released not long after "Monster," was a more creative exploration of the links between the heavy chains worn by slaves and the struggle of African Americans to take their rightful place in history. West's chain is literally heavy, but the chains of the past are figuratively heavy—a more interesting take than this one-line gloat.
"Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness / Goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience" [Jay-Z]
In this technological age, it's easy to find background on all of Jay's monsters of choice. Sasquatch, aka Big Foot, is a great North American legend that has existed since before European colonization, pictured as a woodsy, hairy giant. Godzilla and King Kong are movie-star monsters, both humongous and endowed with a propensity for crushing villages. The Loch Ness monster is an ancient Scottish legend who is water-bound (and actually kinda cute), and goblins are legendary English demon-creatures who tend to be tiny and appear in annoyingly large numbers. We shouldn't need to tell you that ghouls and zombies are the best kinds of messed-up former humans (check out Shmoop's "Thriller" for a history of zombies in the popular consciousness). The best interpretation we could find of Jay-Z's monsters, though, was a version brought to us by the cutest monsters around, the Muppets. "Piggy Minaj" is not to be missed.
"Pull up in the monster automobile, gangsta / With a bad b---h that came from Sri Lanka" [Nicki Minaj]
This is a reference to Minaj's new friend and musical inspiration, the British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A.Deep Thought
M.I.A. got her big break in 2008 with "Paper Planes," a ubiquitous pop-rap hit from the album Kala. M.I.A. and Minaj became friends in 2010, and started collaborating based on their mutual admiration for one another. Minaj has been noted for ripping on other female rappers, so this sort of name check is a move in a different direction. As for M.I.A., the temperamental star said, "Nicki Minaj runs hip-hop" and "I just feel like I get her."
"Yeah I'm in that Tonka color of Willy Wonka / You could be the king but watch the queen conquer" [Nicki Minaj]
This is a lot of people's favorite line in "Monster," and it's definitely the line that rings the alarm: Nicki Minaj is here.Deep Thought
In just thirty-two lines of enjoyable word play, Minaj presents an image of herself that is larger than life, a Nicki larger than Nicki. She mixes humor with a more serious message: the attention and pressure on her since her fast emergence onto the scene in 2008 might actually be larger than Nicki Minaj herself.
Here, the tone used to tackle the question of fame is playful. Tonka, after all, is a toy truck, and Willy Wonka is a crazy candy mogul. The queen is the most powerful player in a game of chess, and Nicki seems to know that it's all a game. Watch out, or she'll knock you off the board.
"Forget Barbie, f--- Nicki cause she's fake / She's on a diet but her pockets eating cheesecake" [Nicki Minaj]
Minaj doesn't miss a beat in her attack on the media rumor mill.Deep Thought
Imitating her critics, she whines "forget Barbie, f--- Nicki cause she's fake." Minaj has associated herself with Barbies since her career took off, calling her female fans "my Barbies" and playing with Barbie-inspired wigs in every style. She did go on a diet—a move some may praise her for, but others criticize, worrying that she is just conforming to the norms of celebrity culture. What about her "pockets eating cheesecake"? Cheese and cake are both slang terms for money, and we're pretty sure the rapper's point here is that people can criticize all they want, but Nicki Minaj is busy getting rich quick. The money she makes is the ultimate revenge on those who are quick to criticize.
"And I'll say bride of Chucky is child's play / Just killed another career, it's a mild day" [Nicki Minaj]
Bride of Chucky is a 1998 horror flick about a killer doll, and Child's Play is the series it's a part of. Minaj mocks the listener by claiming she's worse than an imaginary killer doll.Deep Thought
She picked a good character to one-up: those children's dolls that kill in the Chucky/Child's Play movies are truly alarming, however fantastical they may be. With the follow-up line about killing a career, Minaj makes clear what 'Ye and Jay-Z have been struggling to say through the whole song: that any traits of evil or demonic monstrosity the press may attribute to her are as imaginary and absurd as the Bride of Chucky. She claims the title of a career-killer—and compares it to an imaginary baby-killer—to demonstrate just how blown up the game of gossip really is. Bride of Chucky is an imaginary character, and so are all these big bad monsters, possibly including Minaj, West, and the rest.