No, you’re not too high—it’s a deepfake.
If you watched the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s new song “The Heart Part 5” on Sunday night, you might’ve been taken aback by the on-screen shapeshifting. The one-take video, a prelude to Lamar’s forthcoming and long-awaited Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, shows the rapper’s face morphing into those of complicated celebrities like OJ Simpson, Ye, Will Smith, and Jussie Smollett. To create the deepfakes, Lamar enlisted technology from an unlikely source: the South Park guys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Parker and Stone’s got into the deepfake space in 2020 when they founded Deep Voodoo, a studio with about 20 artists and technicians on staff. The studio’s debut project was “Sassy Justice,” a viral short that spoofed a local news segment from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The video features deepfakes of Donald Trump, Al Gore, Mark Zuckerberg, and others.
Though the deepfake is a perfect vehicle for disinformation and dystopian-levels of division, Lamar’s video represents the medium’s artistic upside. The video isn’t trying to deceive you into believing anyone other than Kendrick is responsible for those words, but when he delivers them in the guise of these other famous figures, the words are given more power, taking on extra meaning.
Kendrick’s Deep Voodoo collaboration isn’t the first example of creative deepfakes. This AI-generated film shows Richard Nixon reading a speech he never had to deliver, one written in case the Apollo 11 moon landing mission failed. It was created by MIT media artists Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund in collaboration with two AI companies, Canny AI and Respeecher. The film adds insight and context to visualize a historical moment in a way that wasn’t possible previously.
Stone does acknowledge the dangerous power that lies in the hands of a deepfaker, but he’s more interested in laughs than in anything else. “There is something anxiety-producing about it,” he told the New York Times. “You could call it a moral question—we call it a comedy question. Just ripping something off and trying to fool somebody for more than a second, we have no interest in that.”
This won’t be the last collaboration between Lamar, Stone, and Parker—together, the group is producing a live-action comedy film for Paramount+. The premise of the film is that a young Black interning as a slave reenactor at a museum discovers that his white girlfriend’s ancestors used to own his.