Friday, December 4, 2009

Jay-Z, Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"

This little ditty is a tribute to living in New York City, so we’re basically treated to a montage of iconic landmarks and sights in the Big Apple, while Jay-Z raps about what the city does and how it changes you. But there’s an entirely different story playing out if you know how to interpret certain scenes.

We start out with shots of various buildings and street signs while the music warms up, then Jay-Z finally begins to sing in front of some building that I don’t recognize. But it must be important to him since standing in front of the thing made him burst into a rap.

Then he’s suddenly standing on a street corner, comparing himself to Frank Sinatra and making hand gestures that might possibly have deep symbolic meaning, or it might be that he just always wanted to be a traffic cop. There’s not any traffic, though. Since he’s supposedly in the middle of NYC and yet there’s not a car in sight, this is obviously a dream sequence.

Then some shout-outs to the subway, Biggie Smalls, some guy from Texas, basketball, and the apparent fact that Jay-Z is the most famous person in the world. Then the music gets a little more dramatic and suddenly we have aerial shots as we zoom over the city. It’s apparently time for a major change in the story.

And it turns out to be Alicia Keys. She’s on a street corner, wailing the chorus and pounding on a really cool piano. This thing has the New York skyline around the sides and the Statue of Liberty on top. Very nice.

But she doesn’t have a bench to sit on while working the piano, which is kind of rude. You’d think they’d have money in the budget for furniture, especially when it involves a guest star. Poor thing.

More aerial shots of the city , which I’m now starting to think mean “we really weren’t sure what to use here, so we’ll use this nice stock footage we found.”

Back to Alicia at the piano, where she’ still wailing and still doesn’t have a place to sit. This time, there’s a suspicious white van driving slowly to her right. Does the Liberace estate need the piano back? Just then, Alicia really gets her groove on and starts making this rocking movement while she’s playing, which is enjoyable and all, but she keeps looking in the wrong place for the camera, so there are some focus issues.

Now Jay-Z is back, rapping about the Yankees and the NYPD, with appropriate still shots of both. In the middle of all that is a shot of Spike Lee. I don’t know if this means he’s a big Yankees fan as well or if he’s in trouble with the NYPD for NOT doing the right thing.

Then Jay-Z kicks up the rapping, starting to really let loose with a ton of words while Alicia tries gyrating faster and faster at the piano to keep up. Some of the words in this section were annoyingly bleeped in the video version that I reviewed, so there might be something lost in translation, but Jay-Z sure knows a lot of names for taxi cabs and things that can be sold on the streets.

Brief shot of what appears to be a pregnant man, with an expression that indicates he just broke water while stepping off a curb. This is followed by Jay-Z with a whole lot of words that were not bleeped but I didn’t understand a single one of them. I think I heard “Jesus“ in there, so perhaps Jay-Z was spreading the gospel, not sure.

And here comes Alicia with the chorus again, and this time she’s joined on the street corner by Jay-Z and his hand movements. But the piano is gone. See, you turn your back for two seconds in this city and people take things.

During the “these streets will make you feel brand new” part of the chorus, Alicia starts bucking her hips like she’s got a really bad itch. Apparently “brand new” equals “horny” in Alicia’s world. She looks good, and the hair is rockin, but honey, take care of that itch.

Then Jay-Z is in a high-rise office with a view, looking all Ivy League. Based on the words, he’s letting people know that this city can turn you, so be careful with your life choices. Interestingly enough, all of the images during this part of the song are women, and the words are all about women going bad and turning into whores. Not a peep about what the men can turn into. Hmm.

Chorus again. This time Alicia and Jay-Z are gyrating around on a giant staircase lit up with red lights. (Are they warning lights? Is Alicia about to get turned bad by the city?) No, guess not, the two of them are just waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care how much something costs anymore. Woo hoo!

More aerial shots. (More “not sure what to put here”.)

Hey, the piano’s suddenly back, and Alicia’s singing something besides just the chorus. And she has quite a bit to say, along with lots of choreography and hair swinging. Still no bench, though.

Then it’s the chorus again. We haven’t heard from Jay-Z in a while. We’ve had a few glimpses of him making those hand movements and watching Alicia do things with her pelvis. But really, Alicia’s been doing more singing than him. Shouldn’t this be an Alicia Keys song featuring Jay-Z? I really don’t know what the rules are, here. Just asking.

And after the final chorus, we’re back on the giant lit-up staircase, with both of them doing some hand moves and then Jay-Z throws his arm around Alicia while she assumes what she hopes is a street pose, but really looks like something Salt N Pepa did back in the day. Jay-Z raises one hand in the air in what might be a victory sign or some type of fight the power gesture, but really looks like “this is how you stand on the subway”.

Moral of the story? If you move to New York City, be prepared for it to change your life, make sure you bring your own bench because nobody is going to just give you one, keep an eye on your piano, and make sure your agent fully understands the extent of your singing responsibilities before you sign anything. Word.

Click Here to Watch the Video on YouTube.

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