Contrary to what Kid Cudi has said multiple times in the promotional media tour for his new multimedia project Entergalactic, the practice of using a long-form visual film as a delivery system for new music has been around for decades. Almost from the time music videos became a way to market new singles, artists have pushed the boundaries of the format, resulting in short films, anthologies, and musical films.
Michael Jackson put out Moonwalker in 1988, pairing several of the singles from his album Bad with short films, concert footage, and archival clips. In it, he turns into a freaking robot; this sequence was later used as the basis for an arcade beat-’em-up video game. In 2003, Daft Punk turned their album Discovery into an anime, the clunkily titled Interstella 5555: The 5tory Of The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. This film introduced narrative to the form, soundtracking each sequence with a song from the album to unspool the tale of a group of musical blue aliens thwarting an evil music manager (high cinema, this was not).
More recently, Beyonce’s musical anthology Black Is King, which was released on Disney Plus in 2020 as a visual companion to her 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, is itself a musical companion to the live-action remake of The Lion King. It hybridized both approaches above, using a string of colorful but disparate music videos to pull together a loose narrative mirroring that of the original film, with an outcast monarch returning to claim his throne. Even Guapdad 4000 put together a short film for his album 1176 titled Stoop Kid earlier this year, plugging the project’s more emotive singles into a semi-autobiographical day-in-the-life coming-of-age tale.
I say all of that to say that Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic is not “groundbreaking” in the sense that it’s never been done before. However, what sets it apart is its beautiful animation, which is used in service of an old-school rom-com that film industry professionals are quick to tell us has nearly gone extinct. Despite Cudi’s insistence on calling it a “special” (artists, amirite?), it holds up as a movie in its own right. While watching it on Netflix, I could see myself paying the now-exorbitant price of a movie ticket, leaning back in the coziest seat in a darkened theater, and downing a bucket of popcorn after Nicole Kidman regales me with the wonders of taking in a film at AMC (and I don’t even like popcorn).
And when I say old-school rom-com, I mean a straight-up New York City, When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, 27 Dresses classic of the genre — with some twists. For one, it centers Black folks in a way that a lot of standard-issue rom-coms do not. The central couple — Kid Cudi’s Jabari and Jessica Williams’ Meadow — is Black, their world revolves around a diverse array of characters (played by Cudi’s friends like Ty Dolla Sign, Vanessa Hudgens, Jaden Smith, and Timothée Chalamet, who inexplicably resembles Logic here), and their eccentric, artistic occupations. The film also indulges in many of the most sacred tropes of the genre but isn’t afraid to play with them.
For instance, there isn’t just one meet-cute: There are several near misses before Jabari and Meadow finally cross paths and set off on their love story. Their dates are highlighted by selections from the album; when Jabari meets Meadow for the first time, “Angel” significantly plays in the background. A bike ride through the city is backtracked by “Willing To Trust” with Ty Dolla Sign. Cudi and Williams display easy chemistry, while the animation — which has been compared to Spider-Man: Enter The Spider-Verse, although I find it more in line with Netflix’s equally excellent animated series Arcane — is as detailed as it is stylized, effectively conveying characters’ emotions while dazzling with psychedelic imagery and vivid color.
As far as the album goes, it falls somewhere in the middle of Cudi’s output; it’s nowhere as bland as Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven or Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ but fails to reach the heights of his debut Man On The Moon: The End Of Day or his most recent release, Man On The Moon III: The Chosen. The songwriting is almost painfully earnest — but why is that such a bad thing? A fun effect of releasing the album alongside a visual companion is that each forces the listener/viewer to consider itself in the light of the other. Where a cynical critic — i.e. most of us — would sneer down our noses at the album’s sincerity, the film’s theme skews that perspective. Because our heroes cannot find love unless they are willing to strip off their armor and be as vulnerable as Cudi is in his music. That he limits himself to his usual themes could be seen as creative timidity or, as with the crowd-pleasing tropes of romantic comedy, it could be seen as giving the people what they want.
Not every element of the movie or the album works well in concert with all the others — subplots involving Jabari’s anxiety about selling out at work and a dating app turning out to be a scam go nowhere after a lot of buildups. These subplots appear to attempt to inject social commentary into the film’s narrative, but they’re mostly pretty superficial and not very insightful. But since when do we come to Kid Cudi for social commentary? It’s okay that everything isn’t perfect; that’s one of the messages that has permeated Cudi’s music since day one. Now, it saturates his filmography, which like his music, has shown what a genre is capable of if only one is willing to take a chance.
Entergalactic is out now via Wicked Awesome/Republic. The special is now streaming on Netflix.