Kid Cudi's music video for "Mr. Rager" is violent. No, seriously. I mean tooth-flying, blood splattering, neck-braking violent. More like a short film, "Mr. Rager" shows Kid Cudi taking on a flock of blood thirsty scrappers wielding crowbars, battle axes, baseball bats, and their own fists.
While there are hoards of music videos that use violent footage, often out of context or usually so shocking the message in the lyrics ends up being ignored, "Mr. Rager" is different. The entire video seems, at first glance, like purposeless fighting, but there's more at work here…
Kid Cudi (born Scott Mescudi), comes off as a warm, cheery guy. He seems playful, personable and just straight up fun in his music videos or photo shoots. So it comes as a surprise to learn that he's been dealing with major anger management issues for the past while after punching a fan in Vancouver, being tasered during the NBA All Star Game (for wearing Nike to a Reebok party he was supposed to perform at), and tearing a door off the hinges of a young woman's apartment and proceeding to smash her cellphone. Woah.
With that in mind, "Mr. Rager's" premise makes complete sense. The initial Kid Cudi we see (clad in a brown leather jacket as opposed to black), the one man who takes on the many is a manifestation of Kid Cudi's anger (aka Mr. Rager?). By the end, we see Mr. Rager battered, beaten, and bruised, but he needs to be finished off. A hooded individual slowly walks up, pulls out a knife, and drives it through Cudi's stomach. The camera flips so the viewer can see the perpetrator's identity: Cudi himself. After the self-confrontation, a soft countdown can be heard and the screen is filled with Cudi's face, eyes closed. It appears he's been in a therapist's office the entire time. Now the violence has context and meaning; Kid Cudi is finally putting his anger problems to rest.
Tons of other violent music videos argue that their imagery holds deep meaning as well. "Born Free" by M.I.A. for example, was pulled off YouTube for its controversial visuals of redhead genocide. Growing up in Sri Lanka, M.I.A. saw plenty of genocide in her early childhood, but whether or not the video is a nod to that is completely lost. MTV described the video as "unflinchingly, unapologetically real" in which redheads are rounded up and rid of all personal liberties.
More recently, Kanye West's "Monster" shows him casually chillin' in a bed with some female corpses. The video even comes with a disclaimer at the beginning, "The following content is in no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any groups of people. It is an art piece and it shall be taken as such." Except I'm pretty sure it's up to the viewers, or interpreters, how an "art piece" should be "taken." I, personally, don't see the video as misogynistic or negative towards any particular group of individuals so much as I see it as totally gruesome for no apparent reason.
Gossip, gossip, n*gga just stop it / Everybody know I'm a motherf***in' monster / I'mma need to see your f***in' hands at the concert / I'mma need to see your f**in' hands at the concert / Profit, profit, n*gga I got it
- "Monster", Kanye West
Got myself an interview tomorrow / I got myself a jacket for a dollar / And my nails are chipped but I'm eager / And the car doesn't work, so I'm stuck here / Yeah, I don't wanna live for tomorrow, I push my life today
- "Born Free", M.I.A.
Neither of the songs' lyrics reflect any of the imagery in the videos. I mean, other than the fact that Kanye is a "monster" - but the song lyrics themselves seem to depict him more as a musical monster, rather than the err… cannibalistic type.
Similarly, the lyrics in "Born Free" are fairly detach from the graphic visuals in the video. It seems sort of like a basic diary entry at first, "I have an interview tomorrow, oh yeah and I bought a new jacket! Cool huh?" but I guess you could argue the last line is a call to "live in the now" etc, etc…
I suppose I could argue that all the gore in "Born Free" makes its point in trying to say "don't punish someone for the circumstances under which they were born" - but did I really need to see a kid with a gun to his head to get that message?
In contrast, the lyrics in "Mr. Rager" actually make sense with what we're seeing:
HEY!, Mr.Raaager, Mr.Rager / Tell me where you're going, Tell us where you're headed / I'm on my way to heaven, Mr. Raaager / Can we tag along, Can we take the journey / Knocked down round for round
- "Mr. Rager", Kid Cudi
Mr. Rager is depicted as a separate entity, presumably dying as he "goes to heaven". So for all the wrong Kid Cudi's done in the past little while, it looks like he finally got it right. "Mr. Rager" is both cinematic and provocative - and so were "Monster" and "Born Free" - but it actually means something. Cudi even dedicates it "all of the kids like me" who maybe suffer similar anger issues.
It's clear that Cudi wins this round, figuratively and literally, but who knows what's next. Considering the basic media footage we see on the 5 o'clock news every evening of wars in the Middle East and courtroom streams of real life monsters , it's becoming increasingly difficult to shock and get attention. It almost seems as if videos like "Monster" and "Born Free" are competing with that type of raw footage for attention. The music video becomes a shocking hot mess or bad case of #TMI where any message is rendered utterly meaningless.
Got something to say? Keep it simple. Keep it minimal. Lesson learned from "Mr. Rager"? Sincerity and thoughtfulness pack some pretty mean punches. Just sayin'.