While most radio stations and social commentators were focused on the exploits of yet another former Disney pop princess showing a sexually explicit side in order to break away from her previous image, two of the most influential musicians today released a single that could possibly be the quintessential song for this generation – a love song to fame and popularity.
Jay Z and Justin Timberlake’s Holy Grail details a passionate, but troubled relationship. The other person, however, is not a woman, but the celebrity lifestyle. In a juxtaposition to most rap songs, it is the men who are being abused by their paramour. Despite being mistreated by their fame, they continue to run back to it.
After singing of the lengths he would go to continue his lifestyle, Timberlake admits, “But I still don’t know why, why I love it so much.”
Through out the song, Jay Z goes through the positives and negatives to his luxurious, but inescapable life.
____ the fame, keep cheating on me
What I do, I took her back, fool me twice
That’s my bad, I can’t even blame her for that
Enough to make me wanna murder
Momma please just get my bail
I know nobody to blame
Kurt Cobain, I did it to myself
Fame, this thing that Jay Z cannot live without leads to just that – his inability to live. He would murder or commit suicide because of it.
Throughout the song, you hear a sample quote in the background “Thanks for warning me.” In some ways, it could be a sarcastic remark from Timberlake and Jay Z noting that no one really told them becoming a celebrity would entail all of the negatives.
In another way, it could be a hope that others actually heed the warning laid out in the song, which, in that case, the song would be akin to Solomon writing Ecclesiastes. He has experienced it all, but when he looks back at it he is forced to say “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
In the end for Jay Z, it’s empty, just like it was for Solomon. The song. The lifestyle. All of it. There is no satisfaction. In one sense, Jay Z is rapping about chasing after a holy grail that he already has – fame, but in another way he realizes that the real quest is like chasing the wind.
No matter how much success he obtains, it just pushes him further away from the goal he is chasing. He’s trying to find the approval that comes with being a celebrity, but without the drawbacks, the influence minus the attention. That’s something he can never have.
His holy grail is a poisoned well. It’s a glass of salt water for a man dying of thirst. Jay Z’s rhymes call to mind rhymes from the 1700’s. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Mariner and his ship’s crew are stuck in a dead sea as still as if they were in a painting.
Without provisions or any means to resupply their ship, the sailors lament their position.
Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.
Despite being surrounded by the very thing they long for, they cannot benefit from it. To drink from it would only increase their need for water.
Fame is the same for Jay Z. He wants it and cannot imagine living without it. He is surrounded by it, yet he wishes for a way of escape. He continues to drink the very thing that is robbing his life of its true meaning.
In our culture driven by and obsessed with celebrities, Jay Z and Timberlake admit that it is not all it appears to be on the surface. But they also cannot escape from it themselves. Or at least, they think they can’t.
Solomon realized the answer to finding purpose in a world of vanities. From a man that had even more power, prestige and worldly pleasures in his day than Jay Z and JT combined, this is what it is all about:
When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
That is a cup from which you can drink deeply and after which you will never be thirsty again.