Kanye the Heartless Artist

Yeah, Kanye got to me.

I admit it. The guy’s such a giant tool it’s unbelievable. I’ve already vented about the Taylor Swift, MTV fiasco over at Writer Dad, and asked children to express their thoughts on the topic over at Children Write the Future. Here at the Inkwell I would like to focus on Kanye’s creative merit.

About six weeks ago I had an idea for a post that ended up keeping about thirty-two thousand others company in a file marked “ideas for someday.” The thought was to compare the two versions of Kanye’s Heartless. I’m glad the day has given me reason to dig the idea up.

I find Kanye’s version rather vapid and lacking any real emotion or genuine soul. It is overproduced to the point of diminished perfection, trying way too hard to rinse the radio ready single of Kanye’s awkward style of rapping. Heartless is also the third or fourth song (I’ve lost count) where he has sung a set of vocals in place of the usual rhyme scheme, pushing him ever closer toward the category of Pop music where I believe he clearly belongs.

The single itself is sad, carrying a downbeat melody on the shoulders of a weary backbeat. Kanye sings about “the coldest story ever told” because of “a woman so heartless.” Throughout every synth echo, Kanye begs the question, “How could you be so heartless?”

This is a question asked throughout the history of music in every genre going back to when they were banging keys in the palaces of Vienna.

What makes this particular piece of music especially disposable, at least to me, is that I don’t believe a word. Kanye isn’t singing the song so much as he’s singing at it. It is Kanye’s delivery of the material I find most heartless of all.

I would have written the song off entirely, but then I heard the Fray’s version.

This version of Heartless done by the Fray feels raw, and rather remarkable. It somehow manages to twist a trite piece of commercial chart grabbing crap into something that resonates. The way the song is delivered in the quieter version, you feel the notes and understand the hurt. You are there while the feelings linger.

Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass…”

This is what the Fray have done and what Kanye doesn’t know how to do. Listen to each of the versions below and let me know what you think in the comments. Not just which is better, though I am curious to see the consensus, but I also wonder about the bigger question. Do the elements of the Fray’s version exist in Kanye’s? Would they be there if the Fray hadn’t been around to retrieve them from the dirt and dust them with their brush?

Let me know what you think.

If you head on over to Ghostwriter Dad I ask, “What can Kanye teach you about business?

16 responses to Kanye the Heartless Artist

  1. Randi

    It was really hard for me to judge this objectively. I had never heard either version, but watched Kanye’s first. Unfortunately, his reputation preceded him, so as I listened and watched the video, all I could think was, “You SO deserve this. You wanna know what heartless is, Kanye? Do ya, huh? Well I think America will answer you loudly and clearly so there’s no mistaking.”

    While watching the Fray version, by the end, I was hoping that there was some resolution between him and his lady friend. I felt his pain. But who’s to say I wouldn’t have felt the same about Kanye’s if I hadn’t just witnessed him committing a social faux pas. AGAIN. (Did he learn nothing since 2006?)

    • Sean

      Nope, apparently he’s quite the slow learner!

      It’s true. I’ve no idea how I would feel about Kanye’s version if I wasn’t biased before I heard it. Conversely, I’ve no idea if I ever would’ve paid attention to the Fray’s version if I didn’t have something empty to compare it to.

  2. writerdad's mom

    hi, Sean, first off, let me say that even though for a long time I have been of the opinion that Kanye is an asswipe poser, I can be objective enough to say that I do really enjoy his version of the song. It much more belongs in the club/pop dance music scene and would have a different audience than the Fray’s version. I had never heard this version, but could totally feel the haunting emotion that really brought the words home. You know me to have very definite opinions on things, but a long time ago I learned that I could love the art and hate the artist. I think that what Kanye did was stupid, selfish, attention-grabbing and loathsome, and I am sure that the backlash of his actions will deservedly result in some loss of income to him. Money talks and maybe this will make his think twice next time.

    • Sean

      Yo mom, I’ve got nothing to add (for once). That’s a great comment and well said. I’m also trying to think of an example of someone where you couldn’t get your head around the artist enough to enjoy the art, but I can’t think of one. You are indeed open minded when it comes to art (so long as their aren’t boobies involved). I’ll try to think of someone before dinner. See you then. : > )

  3. Melissa Donovan

    I have both versions of the song, and there’s also another that was performed last season on American Idol, which wasn’t too shabby and may have been a deciding factor in determining the winner (Kris Allen).

    Kanye is a remarkable artist, with an obvious gift for writing rather brilliant lyrics. I happen to love his version of “Heartless,” though the Fray has a much more raw and emotional delivery.

    The recent controversy surrounding Kanye’s drunken antics at the VMAs is a shame. There’s no question that his behavior was unacceptable, but what really bothers me is the massive onslaught that he’s gotten from the public (and fellow celebs), despite his apology. There’s a whole lot of negative energy being directed at this man, and while his actions were wrong, I feel there are others who commit evil and wrongs far greater, who go ignored. Even Phillip Garrido isn’t receiving as much negative attention, which just goes to show that our culture latches on to the strangest things…

    • Sean

      I can only speak for myself here, and granted I STILL have not seen his Leno apology which I need to go watch yesterday, but the apology I did read I simply didn’t believe. I agree with what you are saying about others slipping through the fissures of scrutiny 100%, but I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive. Just because others aren’t held accountable when they should be, that doesn’t mean Kanye should get a free pass. He bullied a young girl in front of a nation and I am glad the nation came down on him. Should others see the same? Absolutely.

      P.S. Yes, our culture does latch on to the strangest things.

  4. janice

    Although KW’s manufactured ‘sound’ does very little for me, his version has good associations. I encourage the kids to bring their CD’s into the kitchen so I can listen, and my son’s a KW fan. The Fray give ‘Heartless’ a rawer, moodier edge, making it sound more like a song, as did Kris Allen on Idol, but to be honest, ‘Heartless’, as a piece, leaves me unmoved.

    I’m a bit blogged out at the moment, and many posts are leaving me feeling unmoved, but the up side is that it makes the good writing and the touching, authentic posts stand out in sharp relief. I like music and writing that ooze essence, and still have a whiff of original inspiration lingering on them. I could almost imagine the frisson the Fray got the first time they fooled around with that version and loved how it turned out.

  5. Sean

    Hi Janice,

    Well said… all of it. I know what you mean about being blogged out. I haven’t been in my reader for weeks now, just doing all I can to keep up with our clients and future projects. When I do happen to read something remarkable it does seem to stand out that much more.

  6. Frank Marcopolos

    Kanye’s overuse of Auto-Tune on a song called “Heartless” is really aprropriate. Using that recording technique makes him sound rather sterile and emotionless. The Fray’s version puts the emotion back into the song, and makes it listenable. KW’s version is awful to my ears.

  7. keshia walker

    I just heard The Fray’s version of the song, and it diminishes Kanye’s to nothingness in my view. I just stumbled across this, listening to other fray songs. The pain that is in the lead singer’s voice, is so full of feeling and frustration with the woman that has devastated him. Now, that I have heard The Fray’s version, hearing Kanye’s is like eating stale unbuttered, unsalted popcorn in a rundown theatre, while others are dining at a five star restaurant eating chateaubriand! Also, I think that you write brilliantly.

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