Late Saturday night while waiting for Erykah Badu, who’s known as @fatbellybella on Twitter, to hit the stage at Good Units, I began tweeting and looking for updates. There were a flurry of messages about her new video for “Window Seat.” Vulnerable. Intimate. Provocative. Butt-naked were tweeted and retweeted. I gotta admit the butt-naked part threw me off. Was the video a mile-high romp with her baby daddy, Jaye Electronica, all while sitting in her window seat? I had to know. On Sunday I watched the video with a friend. Her first reaction: “Why did she have to get naked?” Stunned, my response was why not? I thought she was making a point. If you haven’t seen the video here’s the lowdown (via MTV.com):
With an explicit nod to Matt and Kim’s “Lesson Learned” video– in which the duo strip in the middle of Times Square — Badu sheds her clothing while walking through downtown Dallas in her clip. Almost as soon as she is totally nude, Badu is shot in the head, falling near the same grassy knoll (Dealey Plaza in Dallas) near where President Kennedy was shot in 1963. Instead of blood, animated words that spell out “groupthink” leak from her head on the sidewalk. Then Erykah in voiceover says: “They who play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they don’t understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel more comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual.”
Watching the video I immediately thought of judgment and how quickly we project our assumptions onto people based on what they wear, how they walk, etc. Emerging from her white caddy in a Black Burberry trench and shades, Erykah looks like she’s flossin on some discreet celebrity ish. Then she takes off her coat and shades and she’s in a purple hoody, seemingly on some hiphop, thug tip. With each layer removed the assumptions can and do change. Who is this woman? Is she cool? Is she a thug? Is she a slut? By the time Erykah is sashaying in her drawers, folk wondering is she crazy? She is evolving and so are our perceptions of her. Fact: We are quick to judge. We are quick to classify and box someone, esp women, with a label. In the video I saw her as liberating herself of judgment, of inauthenticity and of those labels. It’s bold and brave. I know clothing, or should I say the need to be in style, can be oppressive. As a child, my mom would make most of my pants. My friends teased me: “Homemade high-waters.” This was the beginning of my group think assassination. One summer I didn’t have the cool, name-brand sneakers my daycamp buddies sported, so they taunted me about my skips singing, “Skip, skip, skip to my lou.” Groupthink again. Janelle Monae finds uniforms an equalizer and Badu sees freedom in her birthday suit. But nudity is a touchy subject on these here American shores. It’s disgraceful, nasty, pornographic and definitely not ladylike, which is funny cuz we are born naked, we bathe in the nude, we make love & bring forth life naked. All of these beautiful, essential acts are done without clothing. In parts of Africa, Central and South America it is nothing to see women walk around topless. It is natural. Beauty. Here it is hedonistic. X-Rated. I found it interesting that Badu’s exposed booty didn’t cause much of a ruckus there at the grassy knoll. Probably says more about media’s damaging effect on our nervous system and how dulled our senses have become to erratic behavior, nudity and public antics especially when a camera is in tow. Erykah Badu butt-naked in a music video! The Black body as a site of resistance! The Black female body as entertainment– as objectified pleasure! Is Badu just another jiggling Black as$? By the time the dust settles on this video, yeah probably. But she is in control of her strut, of her own spectacle and of her body in a way that I also think is defiant and evolutionary. My friend Greg said, “Free your mind and your assassination will follow.” I concur.
At the same time I ain’t no dummy. I know Erykah is about to drop a new record and Baduizm is in the air. First it was headwraps and incense, then it was the big-afro and now it’s blurred-out booty. This is also an ingenious maneuver to sell more records. No doubt. Controversy equals more press, more exposure and therefore a better Billboard charting. D’Angelo did it in 2000 with his video for “Untitled, How Does It Feel.” I am acutely aware of how the concept of artistic expression undermines and how it legitimizes. My girl and I talked about this mural and she felt it promoted stereotypes. I argued that it was art and above such negative proponents. Now I see how the term “artistic expression” validates and even elevates. Honestly it’s hard for me to think of art as disparaging. I just see it as an attempt to press buttons, which I think is good. Sharpens those dulled senses. Anyway I’ve said a lot. Too much. Tell me what you think. I need to know!
Check the video below (remember it contains nudity):