This was debuted at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards. Reportedly West penned the song less than ten days before performing it at the awards show. After the VMAs, it was quickly withdrawn following a widespread negative reaction, with West rushing back into the studio to re-record his vocals from scratch and adding new Japanese drums.
This was West's first ever single to feature no rapping, just singing.
The song was West's 24th chart entry in the US. It entered the Hot 100 at #3 making it the highest debuting single of West's career to date. His previous highest entry had been in the previous week, when " Swagga Like Us
" by Jay-Z & T.I. featuring Kanye West & Lil Wayne opened at #5.
Kanye West told Ellen DeGeneres, when he debuted this song's music video on her talk show, that the clip's modern look was inspired by the lead character in the movie American Psycho. He explained: "You know at the end of the movie that he [Patrick Bateman] didn't really kill anyone. I just liked the clean aesthetic and the way he was all about labels. I wanted to express all of that in the video."
Veteran producer Mike Dean, who co-mixed the album, told MTV News that West enforced stringent requirements during the three weeks of recording of 808s & Heartbreak in Hawaii. He explained: "Every song has got to have an 808 [drum pattern] in it. A keyboard part, no typical hip-hop beats. They've gotta be tribal drums. They're all singing."
This song was inspired, like most of the other tracks on 808s & Heartbreak, by West's break-up with the designer Alexis Phifer. He commented to The Observer November 30, 2008 that he thinks people will be surprised by the album because, "it's so personal and so heartfelt. It was just pouring out of my soul. It was therapeutic.'" West added that it was an attempt to get the hurt out of his system, "by screaming at the top of my lungs about what I'm going through."
West told The Daily Telegraph November 21, 2008 that there are no natural drum sounds on 808s & Heartbreak. He explained: "I've called the album 808s & Heartbreak because all the drum sounds are made by the Roland TR-808 drum machine which was really big in the 1980s. Most drum machines use samples of real human drumming but the Roland doesn't so you've got that MTV-in-the-1980s feel throughout the whole album."
The song's video was directed by Simon Henwood. West explained to Clash Magazine January 2008 how the two of them ended up working together: "Well Simon actually designed the Glow In The Dark tour I did this time last year. The original run. He designed that run and so we became really good friends and we worked on different ideas and projects together, hanging out. We were always supposed to do a video and when it came to this I was like 'Simon, lets do this'."