Music videos are usually a promotional tool that help with the diffusion of the media: the Music. I feel they are most of the time very limiting and that they frame your imagination. Kendrick Lamar’s music videos are the opposite, they open you to a new dimension! Check out this video of the Nerdwriter on the matter. Yesterday kendrick Lamar issued his music video for the song LOYALTY feat Rihanna. I watched the clip probably 5 times in a row, looking for all the possible extended meanings and there is my take on analysing Kendrick’s Lamar LOYALTY.
The Loyalty Of Dogs
The video starts with the title of the song over that dog with enlightened eyes:
The dog is an animalised version of Kendrick, its enlightened eyes are kendrick’s eyes. Its solitude in the streets is Kendrick’s solitude. Its loyalty is his LOYALTY. The dog is connected to loyalty but also provide an external point of view on the various elements of human society involving the concept of loyalty.
We can notice straight away that the music video of LOYALTY is directed by Dave Meyers and the Little Homies. This is the same collaboration as ‘HUMBLE’, a music video beginning with Lamar dressed as the Pope, and including a tableau resembling ‘The Last Supper’.
The Christianity Lens
Between the first and the second scene there is a cinematic transition featuring a high angle view of the location of the second scene. It looks like a classic transition but we can notice the place has the shape of a red cross resembling a crucifix. This is the first reference to christian faith in this video and is a hint to the viewer that the bible will be of use to decode the hidden meaning of the music video.
We are invited inside the second scene that takes place in a massive red lighted room. Kendrick sits in the the middle of the room, like a king on his white throne. He wears dark clothes. The camera angle changes a lot during this second scene including some 30+° angles also known as dutch angles. In cinematography, the Dutch angle is one of many cinematic techniques often used to portray psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed.
Kendrick appears as blindfolded Kung Fu Kenny being seduced by scantily clad beauties. Rihanna holds a dagger at him and will eventually kill him signifying the end of his unfaithfulness and the beginning of a type of loyalty. Notice how the dagger is pointing down, continuing on the christianity theme.
The scene is clearly a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The set resembles to the set of the 1996’s Hamlet movie, and even the dagger was meant to look the same to leave no doubt about the reference. This wouldn’t be the first reference in Dave Meyers work to Shakespeare. A previous short film “Volatile Love” by Dave Meyers opens with a quote from Shakespeare: “The course of true love never did run smooth”. The reference to Hamlet this time can be found in the Act I Scene II Page 3:
CLAUDIUS: Why are you still so gloomy, with a cloud hanging over you?
HAMLET: It’s not true, sir. Your son is out in the sun.
GERTRUDE: My dear Hamlet, stop wearing these black clothes, and be friendly to the king. You can’t spend your whole life with your eyes to the ground remembering your noble father. It happens all the time, what lives must die eventually, passing to eternity.
The Sinners and the Scorners
The scene opens on Kendrick surrounded by strangers as signified by their hoods and balaclava so no face is recognisable.
They all surround Kendrick with a white traffic arrow traversing his head. The white arrow is a reference to the dagger of the first scene. Some of them wear red hoods and balaclava. The red colour is used as a reference to the first scene to signify the unfaithfulness of these who wear such hood. We can see the strangers sinking in the asphalt like into shifting sands:
These images are a reference to the Bible, Matthew 7 (24-27):
The commentary of this passage of the bible is often related to the faithfulness as a basis of a strong relationship. In Kendrick’s music video, the passage is literally transposed into images with the apparition of Rihanna in the scene.
The scene continues with the apparition of sharks that are being unleashed by the unfaithful. The shark represents a person whom is greedy and unscrupulous. This person goes after what he or she wants with no regards to the well-being and sensitivity of others. The shark may also be an aspect of his own personality which exhibit these qualities. Alternatively, He may be going through a difficult, painful, or unpleasant emotional period. The shark symbolises feelings of anger, hostility, and fierceness.
The shark scene transitions to the car drift scene. The car has made its apparition earlier in the roadside fight that transitioned into the pre-chorus. The car drift scene is introduced by the circular motion of the sharks and continues on the same motion until the crash. The circular motion is used to show the redundancy of lust, crimes and violence, another topic of predilection of Kendrick.
The Holy Faith
This scene starts right in the middle of the video and lasts until the end. The scene takes place on the rooftop of a building which towers a building with neon signs stating “Santa Fe” which translates to “The Holy Faith”. Kendrick holds the hand of Rihanna. This is a reference to the famous Isaiah 41-13: “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
I personally see this as a recursive point of view on both Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna careers. Kendrick Lamar is at the top of its art in 2017 and any artist would look forward for a featuring with him.
Drug addiction is a recurrent theme of Kendrick’s songs. This scene about telling his own story and clarifying that point: He fucked around a bit in high school due to peer pressure and being surrounded by substance abuse. The peers are symbolised by the mafia gang surrounding Kendrick. He gave up drugs after a bad experience with laced weed. He drinks occasionally but generally he doesn’t prefer altered states of mind. He has been known to criticise the effects of substance abuse on his peers as well (see “Swimming Pools” and “A.D.H.D.“). This is put into images by the killing of his drug addict alter-ego.