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The One Thing I Learned From “Runaway”

I’m not saying that I invented the whole listening to “Runaway” thing, but sometimes I feel like I did.

The song probably didn’t grab me until it had been, like, out for a while — a few days. But after I don’t know five or ten listens, it was embedded, you know, into me. Now, this was after “Power” and well into the G.O.O.D. Friday releases. For some reason, I didn’t really listen to the G.O.O.D. Friday stuff before the album came out. Like I said before, I wasn’t really following Kanye that much at the time. I thought “Power” was cool, but I wasn’t really aware of the possibilities of Kanye West. Which is to say, I heard “Runaway” with fresh ears and no intentions.

Kanye is a virtuoso at programmings drums, with merely a ‘good’ ear for melody. When he does write a tune that sticks, though, it really sticks. “Runaway” is straight-up earwormy. Kanye’s singing, which on 808 and Heartbreak is honestly not very good any way you slice it, fashions on “Runaway” an immediate and visceral hook. As it rolled out, there were so many different versions that it’s hard to keep straight. At the Video Music Awards, there was a briefer MPC/piano email, but that Auto-Tune vocal coda. A few days later, an edited studio version rolled out with a shortened intro and no coda. The album version has a long, sparse introduction and the Auto-Tune coda. I treat the album version as canonical.

The way I look at it, there are a lot of things going for and against “Runaway”. I’m not sure how you like that stately and understated introduction. For me, knowing what’s about to happen, it’s one of the most dramatic moments in pop music. When the drums manage roll in, then the chorus, then the verse, then the chorus, then… “Runaway” is basically a classic rock song with one rap verse. I feel like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy could have been subtitled “Rockist Tropes”. Does that contribute to the general notion that it’s a Big Artistic Achievement? Yes. Is that why it got a 10.0 from Pitchfork? I’m sure that’s part of it. I just don’t care, though.

At one point (a very quickly reached point, I might add!) writing about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy turned into writing about writing about it; i.e., it became more interesting or critically profitable to write about why it was such a watershed cultural achievement than writing about the music. Don’t get me wrong: critics tackled the album head-on, but a lot of the casual critical conversation seemed to me to be of the ’Ughh what’ the big deal? We get it variety. Today, I’ve tried to write about the album itself and how it makes me feel, and “Runaway” certainly makes me feel things.

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