Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic Is Pretty, Affecting, and a Little Too Smooth

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Glancing over recent headlines, you might come away with the impression that it’s been a difficult year for Kid Cudi, the Cleveland-born fashion-and-music impresario whose falling out with Ye appeared to lead to the public pelting with bottles he received during his Rolling Loud performance in July, and whose growing disinterest in his own album-making process threatened to stifle his future musical endeavors. If Cudi seemed eager for an end to the drama, it’s because he has been hard at work this decade on Entergalactic, his eighth album and the new Netflix animated rom-com of the same name, a project that challenged him to employ all of his gifts in fashion, music, and film.

Cudi’s work has always felt cinematic in scope: percussive, kinetic, and spontaneous, an expression of motion as much as pure sound. You get it in the flows — Cudi and Wale attacking the sample of funk singer Trevor Dandy in the 2008 mixtape staple “Is There Any Love?” like two martial artists throwing a flurry of punches — and in videos like French director So Me’s clip for Cudi’s 2009 breakout single, “Day ’N’ Nite.” Obsessed with space, Cudi crafts compositions with cosmic heft, like Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager’s suspenseful peer down dark hallways of drug use and self-loathing, or the way Man on the Moon: The End of the Day blends personal reflection and narrative interludes into a dreamlike concept album about facing your demons and finding happiness, or Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven’s framing of a depressive period as a lurid retreat into ’90s nostalgia, offering up a mélange of rap and alt-rock jams of varying quality punctuated by appearances from the actual Beavis and Butt-Head. Cudi is billing Entergalactic — named after the End of the Day cut about eating ’shrooms and pondering the infinite alongside a woman you like — as his first musical, but it feels like a realization of ideas he has touched on since year one.

Entergalactic recounts the story of a couple being nudged together by fate and learning to set aside their reservations about loving and trusting each other. The album glides through songs about letting go of fear and enjoying the moment, while the film plants Cudi in the role of doe-eyed Jabari, an artist hired to revitalize a storied comic-book company with a series based on his character Mr. Rager. Moving into a lush Tribeca building, Bari meets Meadow (Jessica Williams), a photographer living in the apartment next door, whose tastes for art, music, weed, and vegan food make a fine foil to his ex Carmen, an NYU grad whose bedroom walls and Instagram page are covered in chipper motivational sayings. The film marks the feature-length directorial debut of Fletcher Moules, whose work on shorter Clash of Clans and Star Wars tie-ins 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 to Disney, Marvel, or Pixar films like Coco or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The utility player is probably 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. When music, visuals, and story move in concert, Entergalactic is delightfully loose and vivid. A trippy nightmare sequence in which Mr. Rager attacks Bari after a more successful artist at the company suggests a less overtly ethnic art style, as well as the scenes when the artist parties with his friends Jimmy (Timothée Chalamet) and Ky (Ty Dolla $ign, who appears on the album twice), leans into a freewheeling, psychedelic feel that lives up to the film’s 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 love story, and between the space-conscious sonics in the soundtrack and the sometimes rote lyrics dancing overhead. The music finds Cudi in a more peaceful headspace than Man on the Moon III: The Chosen, the album written after Entergalactic but released two years prior in 2020. Entergalactic benefits from Cudi’s nearly 15-year career of pairing earnest lyrics and soothing hooks with plush synth melodies. He sounds revitalized on “New Mode” and “Do What I Want,” humming about new beginnings and self-actualization. Reining things in to tell a single story about getting over your hang-ups around surrendering to someone else who has your best interests at heart, Entergalactic evades the high-stakes drama of the typical Kid Cudi project, a place where death and depression stalk the talented dreamer across a mountain range of highs and lows. It’s less rocky this time thanks to the more cohesive overarching concept, but sticking to the love story opens the singer-songwriter up to a world of rote, misty lyrics ultimately saved by his gifts for sticky melodies and texturally intriguing productions (longtime collaborators Dot Da Genius, Plain Pat, and E.Vax of Ratatat all co-produce with Cudi to delightful results). 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 a tasty synth tone, as does “Ignite the Love” (“Hmm, ooh, I need your body / Ooh, let me have you, please”), where airy guitars and warm vocal phrasings convey emotions the lyric sheet only sketches out faintly. The old adage about Kid Cudi remains true: He can tug at the heartstrings using just that sweet hum. So the animated film fills blanks in the loose narrative the album tries to tell, 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, having seen her streetwear reseller ex finally make the most of his talents, wants him back, and this sets us on a predictable path of missed cues and misread texts. Entergalactic hits a snag when one love interest sees a suggestive text another one sent to Bari, and he gives the expected explanation-that-makes-things-worse, setting us on a long trust-issues arc in which Bari has to find a way to explain what we already know: that he’s a solid, monogamous guy who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everything eventually works out beautifully for everyone, as Bari and Meadow 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 the soaring “She’s Lookin’ at Me.” It’s neat — too neat. A smooth ride that doesn’t ask you to think too deeply, a water slide where the sense of danger is only manufactured, a scare that makes the feel-good payoff feel even more good.

When Entergalactic was first announced, it was (and still appears to be) touted as a series. The speedy resolution to the subplot about workplace assimilation — as well as the random family member who pops up ten minutes before the credits roll to give Bari the levelheaded advice his slacker friends couldn’t — makes this thing feel like the truncated version of what might have been a larger, more in-depth project. To that end, as the team behind it celebrates its innovation in this approach to releasing music, note that while you hear pieces of most of the album’s songs, they land the same way that music cues in a regular motion picture do. The songs don’t form the body of the film, as is the tendency for the Beyoncé visual album; the plot is informed by the direction of the songs. That’s different from being the star of a movie you also write the music for, making Entergalactic a different animal from the polymathic expressions of a Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Another quality setting this thing apart from most kids’-movie analogues is all the sex, drugs, and real-life streetwear. The nudity destroys any Into the Spider-Verse comparisons, and the actual Adidas, Yeezy, and Off-White gear Bari sports may make you pine for a time when Virgil Abloh, who worked on Entergalactic before he passed and is saluted throughout the film, was still around and Cudi and Ye and Kasper Rorsted still got along.) Its execution is so slick, its lyrics are so vague, and its narrative is so mechanically efficient that you start to pine for the stranger thing this story named after a song about a psilocybin trip might’ve been. But as a sort of psychedelic outgrowth of a studio album, Entergalactic hits its marks. It’s affecting and pretty throughout its 90-minute running time, a banquet of ear and eye candy. You know where it’s heading before it gets there, and you have a lot of fun anyway. That’s worth something.

Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic Is Pretty, Affecting and Too Smooth