Famous (Kanye West song)

Single by Kanye West
from the album The Life of Pablo
Released April 1, 2016 (2016-04-01)
Recorded 2015
Genre Hip hop
Length 3:14
Kanye West singles chronology
"One Man Can Change the World"
"Pop Style"
Music video
"Famous" on YouTube

"Famous" is a song by American rapper Kanye West. It serves as the first single from his seventh studio album The Life of Pablo (2016). The song features vocals from Barbadian singer Rihanna and ad-libs from American hip hop artist Swizz Beatz, and enlists samples of Jamaican singer Sister Nancy and American singer Nina Simone. The single was serviced to US urban and rhythmic radio stations on April 1, 2016.[1][2]

Upon its release, "Famous" met with scrutiny for a controversial lyrical reference to American singer Taylor Swift, partially in relation to West's interruption of her 2009 VMA acceptance speech.[3][4][5][6][7][8] After West claimed to have obtained Swift's approval over the criticized lyric, Swift denied the claim, criticizing West and denouncing the lyric as "misogynistic" in a statement.[6][7][8] Several months later, West's wife Kim Kardashian released a video capturing a conversation between Swift and West in which Swift appears to approve the lyric, validating West's claim.[3][9][10]

In June 2016, West released a music video for "Famous" depicting a variety of celebrity figures, including West, Swift, Kardashian, former president George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, Bill Cosby all sleeping nude in a shared bed. It was released to a polarized response. The wax figures used in the video were later exhibited as a sculpture.


"Famous" features a segue from "braggadocious, bell-ringing hip-hop" into samples of Sister Nancy's dancehall song "Bam Bam" chopped up over the chord progression featured in Nina Simone's "Do What You Gotta Do".[11] After the initial release of The Life of Pablo, "Famous" was among the several tracks to receive alterations in West's March 2016 update of the album; changes included a different mix and slightly altered lyrics.[12]

For the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot called the song "an example of just how brilliant and infuriating West can be at the same time," noting its controversial Taylor Swift-referencing lyric while going on to praise the production and Rihanna's guest vocals.[13] Jayson Greene of Pitchfork wrote that the controversial lyric "feels like a piece of bathroom graffiti made to purposefully reignite the most racially-charged rivalry in 21st-century pop."[14]


The song includes a controversial lyric in reference to West's interruption of singer Taylor Swift's 2009 VMA acceptance speech and its aftermath:

"For all my South Side niggas that know me best
I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous
I made that bitch famous."[3]

Upon the song's release, the lyric was heavily publicized and criticized by media outlets, though West defended the line, saying, "I called Taylor and had a hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings."[3][4][5][6][7][8] In response, Swift's spokesperson adamantly denied that West asked for her approval for the controversial lyric,[15] with an official statement claiming that Swift had only been asked to release West's song on her Twitter page, and had instead "cautioned him against releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message."[3] In Swift's 2016 Grammy Awards victory speech for Best Album, she seemingly made a veiled reference to West's lyric, referring to "those people along the way who are going to try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame."[16]

In a June 2016 interview with GQ, West's wife Kim Kardashian West claimed the couple possessed a video recording of West's phone call with Swift, in which Swift could be heard amiably discussing and approving the lyrics.[17] She clarified that Swift's camp had threatened legal action should the video be released, and argued that "I swear, my husband gets so much shit for things [when] he really was doing proper protocol and even called to get it approved."[17] In July 2016, Kardashian posted a recording of the phone conversation online, in which Swift can allegedly be heard approving West's lyric, describing it as a "compliment" and a show of friendship.[18][19] In the call, Swift appears to say:

Yeah, go with whatever line makes you feel better, it's obviously very tongue-in-cheek either way. And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that's really nice [...] I don't think anyone would listen to that and be like 'that's a real diss, she must be crying.' You've gotta tell the story the way that it happened to you and the way that you experienced it. You honestly didn't know who I was before that. It doesn't matter that I sold 7 million of that album before you did that which is what happened, you didn't know who I was before that. It's fine. [...] If people ask me about it, I think it would be great for me to be like, ‘Look, he called me and told me about the line.'[3]

West can be heard telling Swift, "I just had a responsibility to you as a friend, you know, and thanks for being so cool about it."[3]

Following the video's release, Swift released a statement stating "being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination," claiming West did not tell her she would be referred to as a "bitch."[3]

In October 2016, the demo version leaked, revealing different lyrics on Swift and Amber Rose.[20]

Music video

The song's music video premiered at a Tidal exclusive event at The Forum in Inglewood, California on June 24, 2016. The video begins with a camera passing slowly over the nude, sleeping bodies of George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Ray J., Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner, and Bill Cosby. All of the celebrities are synthetic bodies.[21] At the end of the video, the camera pans out to show all of the sleeping bodies at the same time as West wakes up from his slumber.[21] Vincent Desiderio's painting Sleep is the visual inspiration for the video.[22]

Two days prior to the video's release, West showed the video to Dirk Standen of Vanity Fair over Skype while the video was still in its final editing stages. The video was filmed over a period of three months and went through four different versions prior to the finalized version. West did not reveal which of the celebrities' bodies in the video were real and which ones were prosthetic; however he stated that the video was "not in support or [against] any of [the people in the video]" and was merely "a comment on fame". He also stated that he received his wife Kardashian's permission.[23] Days after its release, E! Online editor Corinne Heller commented, "Swift is the main reason the 'Famous' video was so anticipated." However, it received "almost no reactions" from the celebrities portrayed.[24] Audience response to the video was polarized.[25] The video of the song was uploaded to YouTube on July 1, 2016. West's song "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" is also featured in the video.[26]

The video would later be nominated for Best Male Video and Video of the Year at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. German director Werner Herzog expressed admiration for the video, describing it as "very good stuff" and admitting he had "never seen anything like this."[27]


The sculpture depicted in the tour is going on a gallery tour and some estimates for its sale are as high as $4 million.[28]


Chart (2016) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[29] 43
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[30] 31
Denmark (Tracklisten)[31] 21
Finnish Airplay (Suomen virallinen radiosoittolista)[32] 93
France (SNEP)[33] 128
Ireland (IRMA)[34] 28
Italy (FIMI)[35] 59
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[36] 55
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[37] 28
Norway (VG-lista)[38] 17
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[39] 54
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[40] 23
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[41] 45
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[42] 33
US Billboard Hot 100[43] 34
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[44] 13


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[45] Gold 35,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[46] Platinum 80,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[47] Silver 200,000double-dagger

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone


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  16. Lee, Esther. "Taylor Swift Snipes Back at Kanye West in Grammys 2016 Album of the Year Speech: People Will Try to 'Take Credit for Your Fame'". Us Weekly. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
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  23. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/06/kanye-famous-video-interview
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