Given the grotesquely public and corporate manner in which Jay-Z rolled out his most recent album Magna Carta…Holy Grail, it’s no surprise that the music video for “Holy Grail,” the project’s lead single featuring Justin Timberlake, is as underwhelming and obnoxiously contrived as most of the album itself.
Jay-Z feat. Justin Timberlake
The video is set in a deteriorating and seemingly haunted mansion, complete with snakes, Greek statues, creepy pools of water and, of course, scores of Holy Grails. Though the setting is so over-the-top it screams Bar Mitzvah, director Anthony Mandler (Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Drake) does an exceptional job of lighting the clip: Timberlake’s face hauntingly lit by a burning car fire and Jay-Z’s mental anguish illuminated by dancing purple lights on a plush bed are just two instances of Mandler’s expertise.
Another interesting aspect of “Holy Grail” is Jay-Z and Timberlake’s decision to noticeably alter the actual music and vocals of the song, something not usually done in this format. Most of these edits work toward enhancing the eeriness and anxiety of the video, yet, as with the video itself, they go overboard and end up detracting from the viewing experience. The slowed vocals of Timberlake’s chorus are just plain awkward, a point highlighted by the anti-climactic ending of the video, when Timberlake-enhanced choir music fades out quietly, leaving Jay-Z rubbing his forehead and the viewer wondering what the hell they just saw.
Ultimately, “Holy Grail” feels exactly what it really is — a big-budget video for a big-budget song by the two biggest artists in American music right now. But if Jay-Z is as much of a genius as he rightfully believes he is, he better have something a lot better up his sleeve for the video to his next single.