Did Kanye West and Hype Williams Steal The Concept for Their New Video?

This weekend, Kanye West released a music video for “All of the Lights,” the fourth single from last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The video, directed by hip hop music video stalwart Hype Williams, features West, Rihanna (who is apparently incapable of wearing any substantial form of clothing), and Kid Cudi. It’s a pretty straight forward video: a little girl walks home alone, Kanye dances on top of a couple of cop cars, Rihanna and Cudi perform under a spotlight.

But, of course, it wouldn’t be a Kanye event if it were controversy-free: Minutes after “All of the Lights” hit VEVO, Twitter (and Gchat and Facebook and YouTube and the blogosphere) picked up on, to put it euphemistically, similarities between some parts of West’s video and the opening titles to Gaspar Noé’s award-winning, anxiety-inducing psychothriller Enter the Void. Almost exactly like Enter the Void, “All of the Lights” features a series of strobe-lit, rapidly edited, full-screen typefaces spelling out the song’s lyrics. (In Enter the Void, the text spells out the names of the people who worked on the film. When it was released last fall, Noé’s titles were lauded not only for their stylistic ingenuity, but also for flouting the standard of creating titles that are generally very, very readable.)

Some have suggested that, by being such a blatant appropriation, the video is more of an homage to Enter the Void than a rip off. But wouldn’t an homage require either West or Williams to publicly address the source of their inspiration, or otherwise give Noé some sort of credit? Until either of them makes their approach and intentions known—and that seems unlikely, considering West’s very public anti-media blitz at New York Fashion Week—it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt. Until either of them says otherwise, it will appear as though they are trying to pass off Noé’s ideas as their own.

Ironically, the fallout comes only days after Rihanna found herself in a similar predicament: Last week, photographer David LaChapelle, known for his bright, candy-colored, sexualized celebrity portraits, launched a $1 million lawsuit against the pop star. LaChapelle alleges Rihanna’s music video for “S&M”—which, by the way, has been banned in a number of countries—was “directly derived from and substantially similar to” his work with other women, including Lady Gaga.

It’s not too much of a surprise. After all, pop stars have tended to play the role of curator, not creator. They (or their people) find what all the hip kids are doing, siphon it through their various filters, make it palatable for the undiscerning masses, and, ultimately, profit from other people’s creativity. It happened with blues, jazz, rock’n’roll, punk, you name it.

In recent years, chief Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am has ripped off the styles of electronic musicians like Boys Noize, Timbaland has borrowed from dancepunk duo Crystal Castles. And it doesn’t happen just in music either: Snickers was embroiled in a huge controversy over an advertisement that practically frame-for-frame imitated a Spike Jonze skate video; Beyoncé has been accused of copying Santigold’s trademark backup-dancing duo.

Referencing, re-working, and being inspired by other people’s work has long been a part of the creative arts; musicians, filmmakers, and writers have done it for decades, and with great success. Hip hop, in particular, relies heavily on that notion. “Rapper’s Delight,” the 1979 Sugarhill Gang song generally agreed to be the first successful commercially released rap song, lifted an entire string section from Chic’s “Good Times.” (Nile Rodgers of Chic later admitted he thought “Rapper’s Delight” to be an innovative and important song.)

In hip hop, using someone else’s work as a starting point has long been considered kosher. Stealing someone else’s work in its entirety, on the other hand, is not. Yet that is what Kanye West and Hype Williams have done with the “All of the Lights” video. The video is not a take on Noé’s titles; it is essentially a duplication of them. It does not reference Noé’s titles; it copies them.

Of the millions of hits that “All of the Lights” has received in a matter of days—and Rihanna’s “S&M” in a matter of weeks—it’s safe to assume most of those viewers have never heard of, let alone watched, Enter the Void or been familiar enough with LaChapelle’s work to identify the obvious usurpation of his style. While music videos are a form of art, they are also largely promotional tools used to sell music (and they have become money-makers in their own right, through the ad-sharing network VEVO). In effect, West and Rihanna are benefiting hugely from other people’s ingenuity.

As the Internet makes it easier for those in the creative arts to make their work available to any corner of the planet and as the structures that made it difficult for people to access anything other than pop music become increasingly irrelevant, you’d imagine a tendency to defer to or collaborate with lesser-known artists. (West collaborated heavily with Bon Iver on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, rather than simply imitate his signature vocals.) After all, our society has become incredibly litigious, with artists carefully guarding their own work as much as they borrow from their peers.

It’s one thing for Beyoncé to borrow elements from Gaga’s style who co-opted Madonna’s style. But for a pop star with a global reach of several million to, essentially, take credit for the creativity of someone with considerably fewer resources is not only a legal problem, it’s an ethical one. We may not expect originality from our pop stars, but is integrity too much to ask for? TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • http://popserial.tumblr.com stephen


  • Shana

    “It’s one thing for Beyoncé to borrow elements from Gaga’s style who co-opted Madonna’s style. ” What are you referencing here? Is there a specific Beyonce video or song that gave you this impression? We all know Gaga has no issue ripping Madonna off, but Beyonce stealing/borrowing/whatever from Gaga is a lofty statement considering Beyonce has been around as a performer, trend setter, and cultural icon far longer – and Gaga seems to be an amalgamation of her pop heroes with no discernible personality. I can honestly say I'm not a fan of either, but it does bother me when Beyonce gets the short end of the stick – she puts in work.

    • guest

      Being around longer doesn't exempt an artist from borrowing elements from other artists, nor do past accomplishments. The evolution of Beyonce's style, performances, etc. do reflect some Gaga influence– especially the telephone video, she doesn't bring much of her own distinct persona, but adapts to fit in with Gaga's (to an extent). When a new artist arrives and dominates the attention of the masses, many other performers will take notice and adapt themselves to “draft” their momentum, if you will. Much like Christina Aguilera's adjustments to her style, appearance and videos when Gaga started picking up steam. Fergie lifted from Amy Winehouse back when she was on the up and up. When a pop artist lacks creativity in certain elements of their presentation – whether it be the music they produce, the ensuing marketing efforts (videos, photos, album art) or style – it is sometimes clear where they (or their “creative consultants”) are getting inspiration from. Traces of Lady Gaga can be detected in the efforts of several pop artists as she draws heavily by another influential figure, Madonna.

      I won't even get started on Britney's latest attempt at being relevant.


    this is a really bad article.

  • Punk

    You forgot to mention the new Britney Spear's new video which basically rips off of Lady Gaga ripping off Madonna ripping off Bjork and also the “homage” to Alexander McQueens S/S 1999 runway show.

  • http://hbgwhem.tumblr.com/ HBGWHEM

    didn't really pick up on any influences. my experience watching the video was- seizure…horny4boobs…more seizures… elton john?

  • HiredGoons

    'Enter the Void' is an awful film. To wit, I don't care.

    • uhnonnymus

      You should have seen it after a few hits of acid like you were supposed to.

  • Pdschatz

    So, what, is Wes Anderson less of a creator for referencing 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' without directly attributing E. L. Konigsburg? I didn't see Jacques Henri Lartigue's name in the credits of Rushmore. Indeed, artists like Jeff Koons and Damian Hirst are praised every fucking day for works that aesthetically amount to direct and uncredited copies of other works. The Beastie Boys make millions by rapping over 2 second flute samples “stolen” from poor, aging jazz musicians. Go ahead and guess how much money Greg Gillis has paid any of the artists he samples on his Girl Talk albums. And yet, none of this was mentioned in your article. Seriously, painting Lady Gaga as some kind of victim of theft? She's a pastiche of hyper-sexualized female pop artists from the 80's and 90's. And you're not even going to call her out for using imagery similar to Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle in the Bad Romance video? I guess it's because she's “making a statement” while West and Williams are just making money off of poor Gaspar Noe. What I'm trying to make you understand is that this sort of “plagiarism” happens across the pop-culture spectrum, and yet you are only offended by it – or even made aware of its existence, apparently – when a rap or R'n'B artist does it. That seems kind of odd. You don't even acknowledge the other major appropriative music genre: EDM, which has made thousands of songs and millions of dollars off of an uncredited 2 second drum break recorded in 1969. West/Williams are trying to profit off Gaspar Noé as much as any artist is trying to profit off his or her source for inspiration. Just go ahead and kill off your notion of the romantic authorial figure, it'll save you a lot of mental anguish down the road.

    • Pdschatz

      Also, claiming that Crystal Castles, a band that takes EP and t-shirt artwork from semi-unknown visual artists without credit, were victims of thievery is equally as dumb. The Timbaland “controversy” you reference is an internet-legend, CC didn't release MP3s of their supposedly plagiarized song to the mainstream public until a year after Ayo Technology was released. I will grant you the Timba is pretty guilty of un-credited sampled, but you should do your research before you make exacerbated claims of authorship issues. But let us not forget that CC themselves have been called out REPEATEDLY for stealing from other chip-tune artists.

      • Pdschatz

        correction: uncredited *sampling*. Also all the other spelling and grammar errors I failed to catch in both these responses.

    • http://twitter.com/rawiya rawiya kameir

      i don't think i painted lady gaga as a victim of theft. if you think i did, then that is my mistake and i should have worded myself better.

      but this was in no way intended as a complete discussion of every major instance of pop stars co-opting other creatives' works. that would be unrealistic. nor is it at all a discussion about sampling in the history of music. that would be unrealistic, too.

      my point is that kanye/hype did not simply use “similar imagery” to noé's work. they copied it. i don't think they owe him any money, just a shout out. sure, it happens across the pop spectrum, but does it make it ok just because other people do it?

      you make valid and important points, but i do think your tone is uncalled for.

      • Pdschatz

        West/Williams took inspiration from 1:04 seconds of Gaspar Noé's 154 minute film. 1/150th of a film. 1/150th. They are not plagiarizing Enter The Void, they are citing (or, at most, borrowing) a sliver of it. If you still want to play the sweat-of-the-brow 'Lockean ideology of property' card, here's my response: Williams did not cut and paste the opening sequence to Enter the Void into this video. He watched Noé's expression of an idea, took said idea, and re-purposed it to fit his own artistic expression. For that 40-some-odd second clip, he probably put in a solid 5-10 hours of work. What is so bad about spending time making a unique re-expression of Noé's idea? I guess the point I was trying to make, apparently in too many words, is thus: If you acknowledge that this sort of appropriation happens all of the time, why are you only taking issue with this iteration of it? Why does it bother you so much when West/Williams do it to Noé but not when Gaga does it to Barney? Why isn't this a discussion about sampling in the history of music (or, for that matter, popular culture as a whole)? You're not innocent of trying, your 4th paragraph below the enter the void youtube tries to make it seem as though this is symptomatic of a larger 'intellectual property thievery' disease infecting today's popular culture.

        Consider this: the only way non-music nerds know who Girl Talk samples is by looking at the liner notes. The only way casual cinema viewers know who Wes Anderson references is by listening to the DVD commentary or reading his interviews. The only way the average gallery patron knows Jeff Koons appropriated Art Roger's photo is by reading his artist's statement. This music video has been out for 4 days now. I'm sure Williams or Kanye will be asked about this in an interview, and I'm sure their response WON'T be “no, I've never seen Enter The Void, this was a new and unique expression”. Neither of them are trying to pass this off as uninfluenced work. Just like Gaga isn't trying to pass her image off as unique, Wes Anderson isn't trying to hide his references to Satyajit Ray, and The Beastie Boys don't claim to play flute. If at hat tip is what you want, a hat tip is what you'll get. It just takes time. And if a hat tip isn't what you want from West/Williams, what are we talking about here?

        Just to be clear, it's not like I'm a Kanye super-fan. I don't even really like this video (however, the song is great). I'm just tired of seeing the same old opinions expressed. I figured that we, as a generation of rap and techno fans, were past intellectual property ownership issues. I don't understand how you cant watch those two videos and feel comfortable saying “yup, that's plagiarism of the worst kind,” without then taking issue with all of the other kinds of appropriation. Your focus on Kanye and his contemporaries leads me to believe that you have less of an issue with Kanye 'taking' from Noé, and more of an issue with Kanye as a laudable public figure. And that's cool. Just don't try and mask it behind the guise of a discussion of authorship.

        I take this tone because I've seen this exact sentiment expressed about this exact video many other places. I assumed Thought Catalog would have a more refined take on the phenomena. In some ways I owe you an apology, you are the unintentional bulls-eye of my collected rage. Still, I would have hoped you read either Foucault or Barthes at some point during your time as a young, informed writer. If you haven't, Barthe's “Death of The Author” and Foucault's (response?), “What is an Author?” are both eye-opening articles about the way authorship and creation work on a theoretical level. Plus, Barthes is just fun to read.

        sorry for being a jackass. I deal with copyright and authorship tremendously in my academic studies.

      • http://www.biskoteka.com Biskoteka

        It is interesting about Kanye's videos that they are compiling a great number of visual approaches originally done by different cutting edge video artists. Like “Welcome To Heartbreak” video using datamoshing techniques previously made 'hot' by artist like Takeshi Murata and David OReilly for example. But there are also cases where the artists themselves were commissioned to direct the videos, like Marco Brambilla who directed the video 'Power', or So-Me who Zeke already mentioned above.
        Also Boys Noize was actually commissioned to produce a Black Eyed Peas song (dont know the name but 50cent is also on it).

        Most of musicians using the samples from other music achieve to create a new emotion with this approach. Filmmakers deliberately use references to homage other filmakers or intelligently recreate scenes or compositions from other film or art, but in this context the reference has some meaning, or if not that, then the sense of it at least has some charm.
        I have a feeling that in popular art, like music videos, the original reference usually only devolves the original art work, exploiting the aesthetic without a sensible cause.

        I could very well just be sentimental towards art expression, because everything that is original gets exploited super fast by the industry, thus ruining the originality itself. But i guess i have to accept that we live in a super fast time.
        As for Kanye, he seems to have a god eye for stuff too, cause he sure does have a good ear.

      • Biskoteka

        *devaluates, not devolves

        heh, sorry my native language sometimes mixes in :)

      • Pdschatz

        Good response. I'm not sure I see a huge difference between Wild Bunch Distribution and VEVO in terms of producing authentic expression. I'm pretty sure that film makers like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Stéphane Sednaoui, and, indeed, Hype Williams himself would argue that their videos demand artistic respect, regardless of the method of distribution. I agree with you, Kanye has a knack for hopping on the most recent artistic trends, and I can only imagine that soon Paddy Johnson and Duncan Alexander will be under Kanye's contract. I would also agree that putting a major star like Kanye, who does indeed earn millions, in front of cutting edge art devalues the style's subcultural value. If we learned anything from McLuhan's cameo in Annie Hall, it's that underground or subcultural figureheads cannot rear their heads in the mainstream without some kind of “cred” backlash.

        But that's besides the point. The author of this piece is not calling out Gaspar Noé's or Hype William's cred. Instead, she wants to paint West and Williams as criminals. According to her, what they did was both illegal and immoral. And that's simply not true. I don't understand why artists should be held up to some kind of “subcultural capital class standard” when it comes to sampling within the context of creation and expression. If Williams wants to re-express Noé's idea, there should be nothing to stop him. As I've said before, it would have been one thing if Williams had copied and pasted the opening titles, but he didn't. There was work put into to the citation, and the ultimate point (aura, if you're an art critic, or heart, soul, meaning of expression if you're a legal scholar) of Noé's piece is completely different from the ultimate point of William's piece.

        Like I said in a post below this one, I don't like the video. Not only are the non-Noé parts boring (actually, Rihanna is a babe, so I'll give it that), but the way Williams used Noé isn't particularly inspired. At the same time, making an uninspired work of art is not grounds for vitriol. West and Williams might have more money than Noé, but they are still artists, and as such, they are still entitled to the same rights as other artists.

  • tshades

    I think there is a new trend, an obsession with Copying which signifies that soon N.Americans will realize that we have a Culture. We are not just 300m special and unique individuals, we share language, tools, values and even style with each other (and with French filmmakers). Its not called Stealing its called a Shared Culture. If Kanye had made a copy of Enter The Void and put his name on it then that would be called Copying.

    • http://popserial.tumblr.com stephen


  • fast adder

    it is a “rip-off”not a “sampling”

    • Pdschatz

      What's the difference?

    • Zeke

      I love the content of this catalog. Though I am a fan of Kanye..I really don't no what to think. This is only one angle, but has anyone taken a gander at Kanye's music video catalog? Unless it was stickily a homage to “Into the Void.” If anything, my first thoughts o the video were West was drawing inspiration from So-Me's video for Justice “D.A.N.C.E” music video, that also features bold text. West worked with So-Me in the past on the hit single “Good Life.” So you wouldn't think it would be to far-fetched of him to resort to a styling that gave him gold in the past.

      How creative artists are is solely up to them. If they indeed stole the idea, they stole the idea. And further investigation should be taken. But we're talking about Kanye here, he could take a shit and call it sell millions. Where would the line be drawn? As for Williams, if he did, as a fan I am disappointed not only in his trickery, but how he cheated everyone out of a video that could truly could have been outstanding. And ranked up with his other unique and idealistic music videos.

  • Mmf

    just shows west's creativity is limited. duh. at least he's got the taste to recognize good shit.

  • The world

    Dear Kanye West and Rihanna,
    Nothing you have done, do now, or will do in the future had, has or will have any artistic or otherwise meaningful significance to me at all, and I look forward to they day when you disappear. Please die soon. Thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183680010 Samuel Walker

    Don't worry someone will always yell about it on youtube so you can stay informed.

  • nnnnnnnnnn

    A few comments:

    Re: kanye vs Noe
    [ Note: I haven't seen into the void apart from the clip shown here. So can only comment on that context]
    To me I noticed a distinct difference. One (Noe) was referencing rave/arcade culture in his titles whilst kanye reference street signs. You can tell from the typography involved. Given that the protagonist in kanye's song probably walked the street after dealing out 'ghetto university' or whilst dealing with these issues (see chorus), I think this is an appropriate sampling to indicate the confusion felt. I think for it to be a copy the context needs to be the same (or otherwise Noe owes a lot of money to rave 'vj's').

    Re: Rihanna vs LaCahapelle
    I am one of the few you mention that is familiar with LaChapelles work and watches rihanna videos. I saw a resemblance in bright colours and thought this aesthetic suited her current 'look' (I.e. bright exterior and darker lyrics). Whilst I am not quite familiar enough with LaChapelle's work to know if a direct copy of one of his photos was made ( in which case i think the lawsuit is justified), I think he is cheapening his work by saying this video is a direct rip of his work.

    Re: Will.I.Am vs Boys noize
    If I was a musician I would be embarrassed to admit anything WillIAm put out was remotely related to anything I produced.

    Re: Timbaland vs Crystal Castles
    Given CC's blatant stealing in the past they probably got what was coming to them.

    • Pdschatz

      “Given that the protagonist in kanye's song probably walked the street after dealing out 'ghetto university' or whilst dealing with these issues (see chorus), I think this is an appropriate sampling to indicate the confusion felt. I think for it to be a copy the context needs to be the same (or otherwise Noe owes a lot of money to rave 'vj's').” <– I was thinking about expressing a similar sentiment, but I couldn't find the right wording. Great point.

      “Re: Timbaland vs Crystal Castles
      Given CC's blatant stealing in the past they probably got what was coming to them.” <– this is true re: CC's own plagiarism, but the whole “Timbaland v. CC” thing is a myth. Timba's song came out a year before CC's song was available to the mainstream public. Claims of plagiarism in the 8-bit scene are complicated because there are fewer instruments to work with and thus a smaller range of tones that can be played.

      • dmanstar

        acutally they both sampled the same 8bit sample CD. I have heard a copy of it.

        Samples CDs are bought to be…well sampled

  • http://www.blueopt.blogspot.com DeMon

    I think it's funny that you're pointing out all these examples of artist stealing from other artist, and chastising them for doing so, but in one of your recent posts you stuck up for Niki Minaj stealing her whole style and persona from Lil Kim (http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011…/). What's up with that? If you're going to focus your misguided attacks on Hip Hop, then at least be consistent. I won't even get into the reasons why you're only mentioning African-American Hip Hop artist in your post, but it's clear that you're not a fan of the culture. So please start writing about something you can speak on with a little intelligence.

  • Guest

    This is a horrible article.

blog comments powered by Disqus