Ahhh, finally we get to take a breath on 808s & Heartbreak. Or, well, kind of, at least.
“Paranoid” is the perfect soundtrack for the point in a relationship that entails the following: “The end is near, but hey, let’s shut up and party, if only for a night. And even though we know we are going to wake up tomorrow and start bickering just as much as we did today, let’s do the best we can to ignore that notion for a few hours to drink, dance, and even turn that burning hatred we hold toward each other into a form of passionate love as the evening comes to an end.”
It’s also the song that seems like the only real break in action on the album. Still, one has to wonder how much of a relief the song actually is when examining the words a bit closer. Sure, the 1986 electronic drum effects and killer pop synths reflect a welcome change of pace that evokes fluorescent colors and cheesy, big-haired music videos. But honestly: exactly how different is “Paranoid” from the rest of the songs West offers here?
“Tell me right now / You really wanna spend your whole life alone? / A little time out might do you good / Might do us good ‘fore we be done for good”, the rapper recites during the song’s first verse, all but promising that while the colors for the painting might look a little different from its surroundings, the backdrop of conflict and demise remains firmly intact. He may have changed the dark vibe for these three-and-a-half minutes musically, but with the lyrics that color in the lines on “Paranoid”, West wants us all to know that his head is still in a place that isn’t all that far from “Love Lockdown” or “Say You Will”.
But that doesn’t mean the song doesn’t stand well on its own. Think about the track’s texture. Yes, when Kanye sings “All of the time you wanna complain about the nights alone / So now you’re here with me, show me some gratitude / Leave the attitude way back at home”, or “All of the time, you be up in mine / Checking through my cell phone, baby no / You wanna kill the vibe on another night? / Here’s another fight, oh, here we go”, it certainly doesn’t exude rainbows and picnics. But the way those defiant, antagonistic words are framed—basically on the floor of an ‘80s dance party—is an example of how smart a songwriter West can be.
He knew he couldn’t continue down the violent path of “Amazing” or the inquisitive, whiny nature of “Welcome to Heartbreak”. So the Chicago native offered the antithesis of a sad song from a musical standpoint. It’s a remarkable accomplishment not only for its innovation, but also for how successful this trick turns out to be. Nobody would ever look at this track on a surface level and conclude it’s anything like the others that appear on 808s.
But a surface level is not a level Kanye West typically works from.
The best moment comes within the first 30 seconds as the listener hears a female voice cackle to the pumping synths in a way that when broken down, turns out brilliantly as her laughs line up directly with each downbeat. What makes that moment even more valuable is the lightning-quick tremble of laughter any listener can hear in West’s own voice as he begins the line “Why are you so paranoid?” It’s an accidental moment of sincerity that lines up perfectly with the candidness of the rest of the album.
And that’s precisely why “Paranoid” is so essential. The track feels like it is the one light-hearted song on the record. A further examination proves that while it serves as that aforementioned break, it also doesn’t veer too much from the divergent current that rolls through the disc as a whole. We’ve all been there—that point of specific inevitable demise in a romantic relationship—and so has Kanye West. The only difference between us and him is that he knows how to make that part of a relationship sound way more fun than all the headaches the next day promises to provide.