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Column: My Beautiful Dark Pixelated Fantasy

By ; November 25, 2010 at 1:47 AM 

I, along with hundreds of thousands of Americans, went out and bought My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy this week just to discover that the phoenix album art was censored: both on the CD disc and the album slip. Okay that’s a lie–I actually knew a couple weeks before it would be censored when leaked footage of the packaging showed up on various sites. It was something I struggled with, admittedly. In fact, I went on a rant to my colleagues about how I was considering importing the album on release date because of the censoring. I especially felt strongly about the issue when it was released the week before in various other countries (with the art left uncensored). Imagine the people who had no idea it was going to be censored. Now, many of you might be saying, “Well that’s what you get for living in uptight America, the supposed ‘land of the free’ that makes you censor art.” However, it’s not as simple as that. I’m not so sure it was even an issue of logistics as much as it was an artist trying to possibly make a statement, or a label dropping the ball.

It all began with Kanye finally revealing the new album art to his highly anticipated album on Twitter. He tweeted: “Yoooo they banned my album cover!!! Banned in the USA!!!! They don’t want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!” He then later went on a rant about how Nirvana got away with having a naked baby on their Nevermind album. Regardless, what followed was a bunch of confused responses from both Def Jam and Wal-Mart representatives. Wal-Mart claimed they never banned the album from being sold, and in fact, the art was never even presented to them. Def Jam then told LA times that they had suggested Kanye change it because it might be controversial, but if he didn’t want to change it, they would stand by him 100%. So what exactly happened? I would like to think that Kanye, being the passionate person that he is, can sometimes be a little over-dramatic. I imagine what really happened was something like this:

Def Jam: Kanye, we think you should change the album art. It’s not really….”commercial friendly” to stores like Wal-Mart, and the last thing you need is controversy.

Kanye: Wal-Mart is CENSORING MY ART! Corporations are DISREPECTING MY VISION!

Of course there is no way of knowing what actually happened, and I won’t pretend to know, because I don’t. But regardless, the response from both sides was strange, and then the issue just sort of went away all together (no one was really talking about it). So my guess is that Def Jam simply just advised him against using a bizarre cover with some side nudity, and Kanye reacted. However, when the censored/pixelated art came out a month later, people just assumed that it was Wal-Mart’s fault, especially since the issue was never really addressed after the initial incident. But what doesn’t make sense to me is that all the versions in America used the ballerina art for the display cover. In fact, there is no law in the U.S. (that I’m aware of, at least) that says you can’t have nudity on a CD packaging, DVD packaging, or book. It’s left up to the store’s policy/discretion. Most stores will, however, refuse to sell CDs in America if the art is too graphic. In some cases, usually bands will just put up a sticker over the part that needs to be covered when being on display, or they will have a cardboard sleeve or slip over it. In fact, artists do this all the time. However, because the ballerina art was the display art, it kind of just makes the entire point moot. So why was the phoenix art pixelated, then? If it wasn’t even the display art, does it make an ounce of sense for it to be censored? What’s more, when looking at other countries’ releases (that weren’t censored) they, too, had ballerina display art (not all of them, because there were different versions – but a good amount did). So why was our version pixelated?

One theory is that Kanye possibly wanted to make a statement. To show how ridiculous America is with censoring nudity, something I could gladly get behind (because we are ridiculous about that stuff). But what makes a good statement? Well, the statement should actually be going up against a legitimate issue. And as far as I’m concerned, there wasn’t an issue with his album art. But even if there was (and let’s say all these companies behind the scenes told Def Jam or whomever that his art was too racy, therefore they wouldn’t carry it), then why not use the pixelated art as the display art? If you are really trying to send a message, shouldn’t you have, I don’t know…used the art that was censored? If you use a different art as the display, then censor the original inside, you are just punishing the consumer. But again, stores don’t refuse to sell albums because the album art that is inside is too racy, they just ask that you cover up display art should you choose to use nudity or some obscenely violent image. While that itself is prudish and silly, it’s not like people not seeing the butt crack and the side boob of a phoenix while purchasing it in store are having the art ruined for them. The plastic will be ripped off and thrown in the trash soon after.

What actually would have made sense to me would be only censoring the clean version. I mean, how foolish would someone feel buying the clean version and having the pixelated disc and album art? It would also be a shot at corporations like Wal-Mart that are so ridiculous in what they worry about. Leaving the explicit uncensored would have again been a nice nod. To me, that’s a much more powerful statement. And if this is really about art being compromised, then why even play ball with Wal-Mart in the first place? I mean yeah, from a business stand point this would be a bad choice. Wal-Mart is the #1 retailer in America for physical CDs. A major chunk of sales would be lost if he refused to sell to them. However, back in 2009 when Green Day released 21st Century Breakdown, they told Wal-Mart to respectively go fuck themselves, and refused to send them a censored version of album because they felt it compromised the integrity of the music. Are you telling me a pop punk group can stand up to the corporate giants, but not the worlds most famous pop star?

And really, the art wasn’t even that obscene. I’ve seen worse in metal albums being released. Of course, Kanye is 10x more popular, so maybe he’s more prone to criticism and scrutiny. But none of this really adds up to me. If this is the stores fault, then maybe, I can understand him trying to make a statement. But I would have to imagine sites like Amazon.com would have gladly sold the uncensored art to thousands of customers. Stores like Target and Best Buy would have gladly sold the album art without it being censored (I know for a fact they have sold albums with much worse artwork before). So was this just an artist overreacting? The corporate stores? Who is to blame? With the ballerina art being used as the display, it really makes no sense at all why we had to have our art censored while other countries didn’t. Maybe a worthy statement. But at the end of the day, as a consumer, it fucking sucks. Who wants their CD to have this big glaring pixelation on it? Luckily, I have a friend in Europe who’s going to be sending me his version so I can replace that goofy pixelated art on my deluxe version. The only theory I have left is, Kanye just thought it looked cool. And if that was the case (and he really thought the pixels look artsy, or interesting) – well I respectively disagree, it looks stupid. But in that scenario, I really couldn’t fault the man, except say I think he made a poor choice in art decision. Altho this theory doesn’t hold up that well, as you would think he would have done this pixelation in other countries as well if he thought it was artistically “superior”.

I don’t know what really happened. The music industry right now is full of idiocy and bullshit. Who knows what really went down. I do know that I love My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The packaging is awesome. It’s just a real shame that the original art had to be pixelated. With the display art not having nudity, it makes me really wonder why the art was censored on the inside. Now it also looks like the vinyl version will also be pixelated (check it out below), which is great. Who doesn’t want a massive art full of pixelation.

I along with many paid for the explicit version, so why is our Runaway DVD censored? It can’t be coincidence that only the U.S. version is censored, and other regions are not. Why is the art in the inside censored for the explicit too? This only adds to the seemingly never ending list of drama that seem to surrounds Kanye West’s releases.

What do you think of the censoring of the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy cover? Why do you think it has been censored in the U.S.? Let us know what you think below in the comments.





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