Despite the lyrical and musical brilliance the video fails to hold up to quite the same high standard. If you're a fan of the genre its references and humour may give a few laughs, but the video doesn't give the same impact as the song demands.
Initially, this video hardly seems to showcase Kendrick Lamar as one of the most interesting, poetic, and thoughtful hip-hop artists of the generation. ‘These Walls’ (or ‘Behind The Walls: A Black Comedy’ as the short is titled) is a tale told from the perspective of an inmate recalling the night that landed him in the joint. The camera journeys through a kaleidoscopic collection of seedy motel rooms, tripping over falling drunks, bumping into drug deals gone wrong, and eyeballing dancing models pouring chardonnay; a party imagined by someone whose world knowledge has come through The Wire and Pitbull. This trance like journey is then broken up by an even wilder scene, a seemingly impromptu comedy dance routine from a Joker faced Kendrick and jacked up Terry Crews. So yeah, it’s not the art I might have promised.
Without context the short could easily be an exact copy of those it’s parodying; vapid party scenes with comedy moments designed for virality, however it soon becomes clear that it’s satire, not just of the culture, but of this one man. ‘These Walls’ is one of the most personal and raw songs on the album; with lyrics that deserve a second read, it’s a bitter yet artistic look into one of Kendrick’s darkest moments, but instead of wallowing in pain, he makes a mockery of it, parading his victories to the victim.
Kendrick, along with director Colin Tilley, dedicate the entire concept to berating this man that has wronged him, his friends, and their families. He uses his fame to make sure this man is not hated, but ridiculed. While in later songs on the album Kendrick may show regret for his actions, and the extent that he abused his new found fame, here he proves one of his loudest statements on the album, that he’s a hypocrite. Despite his manipulations of those around him, and personal assertions that he will never do so again, it doesn’t prevent him from feeling some pride for his actions. What’s caused this video to be so bright and playful, will no doubt lead to the second being darker and collected.
Technically there is nothing wrong with the short. The fluorescent cinematography, flashy set design, and overall style are brilliant, but the comedy, the overall focus of the piece, ranges from fun to pettiness. When it finally breaks down, Kendrick staring down the camera as it listlessly sways back and forth, speaking directly to his target, feels too late for the moral high ground. By cutting a final time to the shots of drink, women, and smiling faces, the song and message lose the strong and cutting ending that they deserved. Overall it’s good, but fails to deliver on the same quality as other work from the album.