My Favorite Videos: Kanye West — Welcome To Heartbreak

By the time February 17, 2009 rolled around, I was waist deep in 808s & Heartbreak. I was a junior in high school. I think I’ve blocked out most details of my personal life at the time, but suffice it to say depression and anxiety had swallowed me whole and I hadn’t yet developed any kind of tools to keep it at bay. I was a wreck.

As such, resident Coolest Person on Earth Kanye West’s modern Greek tragedy of loss and heartache was a weird beacon of hope for me. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time I listened to this album in the 12 months after its release, I could pay tuition right now. And it’s not even like I could heavily identify with everything Kanye was talking about. I wasn’t a mega-rich bachelor dealing with a bad breakup, the loss of my mother, or the pains of fame in America. But the core of 808s still rang true, so I played it until I couldn’t possibly stand it anymore. Even today, listening to the album brings back vivid memories of the emotional house of mirrors I was trapped in at the time.

One of the most potent songs on 808s & Heartbreak is the second track, which honestly serves as the true opener to the album and its themes. “Welcome To Heartbreak” throws it all out there. It’s the thesis statement.

“My friend showed me pictures of his kids
And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs
He said his daughter got a brand new report card
And all I got was a brand new sports car”

Aside from functioning as mainstream America’s first proper introduction to Kid Cudi, the song is the ultimate in what 808s came to be known for. It’s a futuristic dystopia and Kanye is at the center, singing his heart out. It’s just perfect.

So on February 19, 2009 when I read that a video had been released, I was elated. Go to YouTube, press play, hit full screen…

“What on earth is this?”

Seriously, I can actually remember thinking my old, white MacBook was messed up. It was glitchy. I thought someone had messed up the video when uploading.

“Oh, it’s supposed to be like this?! Alright then, this is the best thing ever.”

The datamosh effect is incredible, and works so well with the 808s sound. It’s futuristic and deteriorating. It looks just like the album sounds, which should really be at least part of the goal with music videos, right?

Kanye is pretty much the 21st century kind of music videos. He’s the successor to Michael Jackson’s throne. Amidst his portfolio of incredible videos, “Welcome to Heartbreak” really sticks out for me. It’s not the most expensive or the most popular, but it works so well.

As an aside: Kanye actually had to rush the video out ahead of schedule because the band Chairlift had just released a video using the same technique. In order to avoid the inevitable “Kanye copied them!” storm, Kanye and video director Nabil Elderkin elected to just release the video immediately. I never hear anyone talk about that anymore, but I thought it was interesting at the time.