Make the mistake of turning away from the music video for ‘The Heart Part 5’ — as I did — and you risk missing its most interesting feature.
When brand new music is released at the same time as the music video, I have a bad habit of paying too much attention to the visuals, and missing the core meaning of the music. And so, this morning, I turned away from my screen to focus on Lamar’s lyrics in ‘The Heart Part 5’, a song which is probably the first single from his new album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, due for release on 13 May.
When I turned back to the screen, I couldn’t help but notice that Lamar suddenly looked exactly like Will Smith. Had my coffee sent me sideways? A quick Google revealed that no, in fact, Lamar has used ‘deepfake’ technology in his latest video to transform into a host of celebrities including Smith, Kanye West, OJ Simpson, Jussie Smollett, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle.
The music, however, is just as arresting as the video. With instrumentals that are almost Afro-Cuban, with a touch of 70s funk epics, it’s impossible not to pay attention to what is a brilliant return for Lamar. The lyrics are as honest as always, continuing his musical memoir: “I wasn’t perfect, the skin I was in had truly suffered, temptation and patience everything that the body nurtures”. In other places, Lamar is poetic, if cryptic: “New revolution was up and moving, I’m in Argentina wiping my tears, full of confusion.”
Back to the deepfake stuff. Lamar and director Dave Free have taken a technology that many have warned could be a threat to democracy itself — by facilitating misinformation — and used it for an artistic purpose. ‘The Heart Part 5’ is an encouraging moment that may hopefully lead to more positive uses for deepfake-like technology.
There’s an ongoing discussion about the meaning, which is the fun part, but for now, I note that all the figures featured in Lamar’s video have been involved in scandals, or otherwise unfavourable press coverage, in the last few years. Perhaps Lamar is exploring an empathy with these figures — all of them black men at the forefront of their field — or perhaps the provocation is unguided. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that King Kendrick has our attention again.