New York Magazine

Psychedeli­c Meet-Cute

A new Kid Cudi album, launched in moving color.


KID CUDI’S WORK has always felt cinematic in scope— percussive, kinetic, and spontaneou­s, an expression of motion as much as pure sound. Obsessed with space, he crafts compositio­ns with cosmic heft. On his studio debut from 2009, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, he blended personal reflection and narrative interludes into a dreamlike concept album; a year later, on Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, he peered down dark hallways of drug use and self-loathing.

Lately, it might seem that the Cleveland-born fashion and music impresario has grown less interested in his own album-making process in a way that has threatened to stifle future endeavors. But

that’s because he has been hard at work on Entergalac­tic, his eighth album and a new Netflix animated film of the same name. They were released at the same time as two halves of a project that challenged him to employ all his gifts.

Cudi is billing Entergalac­tic as his first musical, and it works as a realizatio­n of ideas he has touched on since year one. Named after an End of Day cut about eating ’shrooms and pondering the infinite alongside a woman you like, it recounts the tale of a couple nudged together by fate and learning to set aside their reservatio­ns. The album glides through songs about letting go of fear and enjoying the moment, while the film plants Cudi in the role of the doe-eyed Jabari, an artist hired to revitalize a storied comic-book company. (The series that Bari comes up with is based on Mr. Rager, the persona Cudi adopted for his second album.) Moving into a lush Tribeca building, he meets Meadow (voiced by Jessica Williams), a photograph­er whose tastes for art, music, weed, and vegan food make her a fine foil to his ex, Carmen, an NYU grad whose bedroom walls and Instagram page are covered in chipper motivation­al sayings.

The film is the feature-length directoria­l debut of Fletcher Moules, whose work on shorter Clash of Clans and Star Wars tieins gives the sporadic action sequences in Entergalac­tic the feel of a legitimate superhero intellectu­al property; the dense, lively approach to color gestures to anime and films like Coco and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The utility player is co-creator and executive producer Kenya Barris, whose network-television successes—Black-ish, Grown-ish, Girlfriend­s—focus on Black profession­als trying to balance busy work and home lives while maintainin­g a carefully cultivated air of social consciousn­ess. And when music, visuals, and story are moving together in concert, Entergalac­tic is delightful­ly loose and vivid. In one trippy nightmare sequence, Mr. Rager attacks Bari

after a more successful artist at the comic company suggests a less overtly ethnic art style. The scenes in which the artist parties with his friends Jimmy (Timothée Chalamet) and Ky (Ty Dolla $ign, who appears on the album twice) lean into a freewheeli­ng, psychedeli­c feel that lives up to the title. Elsewhere, though, Entergalac­tic is happy just to be your textbook Netflix rom-com. There’s a war going on between innovation and convention here, between this fluid, gorgeous watercolor rendering of wild New York City nights and the more concrete points of a commercial story, between the space-conscious sonics in the soundtrack and the sometimes rote lyrics that grace them.

The music finds Cudi in a more peaceful headspace than on 2020’s Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. It benefits from Cudi’s nearly 15-year career pairing earnest lyrics and soothing hooks with plush synth melodies. He sounds refreshed on “New Mode” and “Do What I Want,” humming about new beginnings and self-actualizat­ion. Reining in to tell a single story throughout the album, Entergalac­tic evades the high-stakes drama of the typical Kid Cudi project, a place where death and depression stalk the talented dreamer. Following a love story opens the singer-songwriter up to a world of misty lyrics, ultimately saved by his gifts for sticky melodies and texturally intriguing production­s. The syrupy “In Love” (“You look at me, hope you can’t see, no/As my heart beats, I’m the lonely man/The lonely man, baby”) gets by on a soaring vocal and tasty synth tone, while on “Ignite the Love” (“Hmmm, ooh, I need your body/Ooh, let me have you, please”), airy guitars and warm phrasings convey emotions sketched out only faintly by the lyric sheet. The adage about Kid Cudi remains true: He can tug at the heartstrin­gs using just that sweet hum. The film fills blanks in the narrative, teasing out the themes the lyrics don’t explain.

Setting the story immediatel­y after the protagonis­t secures his dream job, at the moment he moves into his dream apartment and meets his dream girl, makes Entergalac­tic a story about sticking to your guns and playing a clean game. Bari wants to be good to Meadow but doesn’t know that Carmen wants him back, and that sets us on a predictabl­e path of missed cues and misread texts. Everything eventually works out beautifull­y for everyone, as Bari and Meadow both manage to overcome their personal problems and resolve the work-life dilemmas that mostly happen off-camera, and we float into space on the plinking notes of “Can’t Shake Her.” It’s neat. Too neat—a smooth ride that doesn’t ask you to think deeply, a waterslide whose sense of danger is only manufactur­ed, a scare that makes the payoff feel even more good.

This film has been touted as a series. In that light, it seems truncated, with speedy resolution­s to its subplots. As is the tendency of the Beyoncé visual albums, the story is informed by the direction of the songs, but even then the music doesn’t form the body of the film. Entergalac­tic is a different animal from the polymathic expression­s of a Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Another quality setting this thing apart from most kids’-movie analogs is all the sex, drugs, and real-life streetwear. The nudity destroys any Into the Spider-Verse comparison­s; the actual Adidas, Yeezy, and Off-White gear Bari sports might make you pine for a time when the late designer Virgil Abloh, who worked on Entergalac­tic and is saluted throughout the film, was still around.)

As a sort of psychedeli­c outgrowth of a studio album, Entergalac­tic hits its marks. It’s affecting and pretty, a banquet of ear and eye candy. You know where it’s heading before it gets there. But its execution is so slick, its lyrics so vague, and its story so mechanical­ly efficient that you start to long for the stranger thing that this story was named after—a song about a psilocybin trip that might’ve been. ■

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