June 14, 2012

Category: Real Talk

Sex, Lies & Videotape: Erykah Badu & Rihanna

“The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.” –Audre Lorde, Uses of The Erotic

Erykah Badu, like many of us, knows that video was crap and so now she is blaming the director, Wayne Coyne and his Flaming Lips for piss poor editing and unused green screens? I think that’s some bullshit to deflect from her own piss poor participation and hollow vision. Just like Mary J. Blige, who after getting the major thumbs-down for her wack Burger King Crispy Chicken commercial (ugh that song!) and blaming BK’s ad agency for undermining her brand, EB is now backtracking and pointing the finger at everyone, but herself for the making of the video for “The First Time I Ever Saw.” I don’t believe that either of these women were misunderstood. As a matter of fact, I think I understand them, like the rest of their constituency, to be better, smarter and more provocative than the nonsense they are doling out in the name of “art” and, clutch your namechains, “soul.” In MJB’s case, she clearly was a victim of C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Mary) and in Badu’s case, well she too was a victim of cream—the kind she thought would make a radical statement if dripped on her (or rather her sister’s) lips and bare breasts. You see even if the green screens had been replaced by scenes from Roots or Foxy Brown or even Monster’s Ball (I’m grasping here y’all), it would not have made this an expression of high art or radical sexual politics. Not every glitter dusted, blood-soaked bare Black ass is political, intellectual high art. Sometimes it’s just a (nother) bare Black ass! And just because Badu who is a schemer, an Elegba of sorts, alleges that she was duped by Wayne and is now so very angry with him and his social media hijinks, doesn’t mean I must see her as a victim with no culpability. Who knows? Maybe this was her brilliant idea and it flopped. Or better yet, maybe this is ALL a part of her master plan. Maybe the “beef” she is having with Wayne’s Flaming Lips is manufactured to get more YouTube hits and more blog posts like this one here written. Just because Erykah and all her fly ankh-ology put some shit on a stick, we should not feel obliged to call it a shish kebob.

Case and point: On May 29th our Dallas booty-baring Analogue-Girl tweeted this AFTER Coyne had posted pics on his Twitter page from their video shoot:

@fatbellybella: @waynecoyne it looks beautiful. Nayrok (lil sis) looks amazing. U are a Tru visionary .. My fav is the glitter.

And later that same day:

@fatbellybella: Those nude photos posted by Wayne (flaming lips) are of the beautiful Nayrok my lil sister and bestee. We do look alike. Video looks cosmic.

The video looks cosmic?? Yeah, she really sounds outraged. What’s even more troubling than this dramatic act of victimhood that she’s been relentlessly unfurling these last few days like one of her old Baduism head wraps (btw– her former media tool pre-social media) is how many folk read all of these extraordinarily intellectual meanings and subtleties into this bathtub porn of a music video. I read someone’s thoughts on how it reminded them of “Angel Heart,” Lisa Bonet and all that blood. Then there was this profoundly deep interpretation of the scenes with the semen-like substance being a connection to the ancient Japanese tradition of bukkake where any woman found guilty of adultery was taken to the center of the village where all the men would surround her, jack off, and spew their cum all over her. I even heard someone say they thought she was dipping into Kara Walker’s radical pot of slave girl-slave owner, love-hate dilemma so brilliantly executed in Kara’s “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.” Such a dis to Kara’s well-thought out work and theses on Black women, sex and slavery. Badu may have been dipping into Kara’s pot, but I can assure you it was the one labeled, cannabis. These readings and this need for there to be a deeper, smarter, and more revolutionary meaning to this Flaming Lips video is a reflection of Black women (and many Black men) to have their bodies mean something more complex and nuanced than what is readily accessible in pop culture and Playboy. Some of us needed that video to be something powerful and resistive. But it was not. The idea that Badu shot and participated in a video that was just another example of objectification of Black women in music videos was beyond what any progressive, caring, sensitive, revolutionary thinker could/ would imagine or accept.

Now this is why I love, appreciate and respect Rihanna and her game. She’s the chick that’ll be photographed topless while swimming in Barbados and enjoying a spliff post-backstroke and say, “Yeah, I did that. I was on vacation. What?!” She’s the same woman who asked Chris Brown, her abuser, to guest on her single “Cake” and then says to the masses “What’s the big deal?” when everyone cries out all bloody hell. She dates whomever she wants to date and has had sex with many of them over the course of the last seven months. She does not cop to radicalism when she’s just trying to get her swerve on and she doesn’t point the finger at her father, Ashton Kutcher or even Chris Brown for victimizing her or leading her astray. Strangely all of this, particularly in light of current politics, is very radical and provocative. Rihanna’s pleasure, like her pain, is her own and she makes no excuses for either. I love it! We should all take note and live and get our groove on so freely. Even when Drake and Chris Brown recently attempted to “slut-shame” their former lover on Twitter (right before they started throwing bottles at each other in the club), Riri’s response was a simple, sharp-tongued tweet: “Cupid stay away from my ho’s.” No guilt, no shame, no regrets and no green-screens!

Even considering Rihanna’s professional play book, I would say, that not since Madonna, has an artist emerged who is more savvy when it comes to her use of music video (Gaga comes close, but unlike Ri who uses video as a reel for documentary narrative, Gaga uses it as this fantastical other realm to explore life and love). Rihanna knows she can’t sing and dance like Beyonce so she uses the camera to tell these stories that stick and resonate in a way that is very smart and, by Audre Lorde’s definition, very erotic: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire… Of course, women so empowered are dangerous.” “Man Down” and “We Found Love” in their honest telling of Rihanna’s complicated, uneasy dynamic with love, her vulnerability, violence and men is rawer than any glittered cootchie in Badu’s Flaming Lips video. Rihanna exposes herself and doesn’t have to get naked to do so. I just hope Erykah will dig much deeper next time she’s in front of the camera and give herself and her audience a little bit more credit.

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9 Responses to “Sex, Lies & Videotape: Erykah Badu & RihannaComment RSS feed

  • Latasha
    June 14th, 2012 4:50 pm

    Dang good job gal.

  • Carlyle
    June 14th, 2012 8:05 pm

    Very well written and great analysis of both Badu & Ri Ri. On point.

  • Fanon Che Wilkins
    June 15th, 2012 10:14 am

    hmmmmm. i get that you thought the video was crap. i also get that you were even more pissed when eb attempted to cry foul and deflect responsibility after the negative readings started to roll in. i don’t, however, get how rihanna emerges out of all this as a radical alternative simply because she takes ownership of her pleasure and her pain–really? and eb does not and has not? rihanna is now an extension of audre lord’s definition of the erotic and eb is reduced to scum because she fumbles like we all do–ninja please. why does erykah seem to bring out so much venom? i mean really. let’s look at the sista’s body of work. people who are prone to experimentation fuck up from time to time–kinda the nature of the enterprise youknowhatimsayin! yes we can be critical- but what’s behind the criticism? what attitude/stance is driving the criticism? i’m sorry but this piece is as sensational as this whole flaming lips fiasco. where is the love, care, restraint, constructive criticism from the sisterhood? i mean if brooklyn boheme alumni who champion the flyaspora don’t hold down eb, who will? eb seems to get put on the chopping block by those whom she appears to have so much in common. i expected a bit more care and nuance from the hotness. i think that you could have examined rihanna and eb’s flaws in ways that linked them to each other and all of us. both of them are at work with trying to freely reveal the pleasure and the pain in a space where everything is rehearsed and performed. how might those industry constraints help us grapple with the pitfalls and roadblocks that they both face? we gotta see the worst of others in ourselves–if not we just keep going around and around in circles, bringing all the heat, but no light. and finally, why is cannabis always tossed out there as a negative substance that always leads to craziness and bad choices? that’s the same language that anslinger and the hearst newspapers used to outlaw the substance in the first place–it made blacks and mexicans crazy and prone to stealing and raping white women. come on hotness you know better. onelove!!!!!

    • theHotness
      June 15th, 2012 11:56 am
      Author's Reply

      @FANON: I’m going to work from your last point back to your first. I’m not slamming weed smokers or saying it makes you insane, but I will say this: if I’m having open heart surgery or brain surgery I’d rather my surgeon not have smoked weed all day. You may prefer that he or she is high when they do your triple bypass, but that’s to each’s own. I just feel some people are in clearer states of mind when they haven’t smoked cheeba than when they have. Never mind that I was being so tongue & cheek when I used that metaphor. Now to the bigger issue– Ain’t no one, and surely not even your ninja Hotness Grrrl, is throwing Badu under the bus. Indeed we love her because we understand she is driving the bus! But as a blossoming cultural critic I have to have the freedom to say something sux stinky wet socks if I feel it does and why. Not only does my analysis take into consideration Badu’s entire body of work, but it is because of her amazing body of work that I expect Badu to produce better material in 2012 than she did 15 years ago after her amazing debut Baduism. I wish I would start writing worse than I did 15 years ago and still expect my editors to praise me and give me work because of some sense of Diasporic duty to cover-up my shit! Even when I listened to the song without visuals I thought her singing was weak and did not even come close to what she is capable of doing. And my post wasn’t on some Badu is bad and Rihanna is good. I looked at their most recent videos and in the context of power, Audre Lorde’s erotic and Black women & pleasure, I think Rihanna’s “Man Down” and “We Found Love” are much more resistive and powerful narratives than Badu’s “The First Time” & even her “Window Seat.” I never said Rihanna is an alternative to Badu. I didn’t even suggest that. theHotness is all about promoting a sisterhood and I hope its clear in my writing that the point in my writing is to show how both of these women whom we love are simultaneously playing with similar themes within pop culture and how differently they both play around with sex and notions of pleasure and vulnerability. It’s not about choosing one over the other. This is not Lebron vs. Durant. I do write to bring “light” but my light is not based on some Kumbaya ideal of it’s all good, all the time. And yo, this is far from being “venomous”!! Google my post on Nickii Minaj if you really want to see someone bring out so much “venom” and where I incidentally compare what Nicki does with her Barbie branding to Erykah’s promotion of ankhs and how much I appreciate and prefer, esp as a grown woman, Erykah’s stance, which is rooted in something Black and African. Do that and then get back to me Mr. Wilikns about theHotness being sensational!:)

  • Smooch
    June 15th, 2012 12:02 pm

    I agree that we can discuss EB’s failed artistic collaboration and voyage into “sexual provocateur” territory without insulting her character and accusing her of scheming because she floundered publicly and backtracked out of embarrassment and face-saving.

    I’m still a huge fan of your site tho. Kisses!

  • Fanon Che Wilkins
    June 15th, 2012 1:25 pm

    @the hotness–one of the interesting things about the collapse of the record industry and the reign of the internet,is the space that it provides to publicly woodshed–that is experiment in dialogue with your core audience. i saw this work as just that–nothing more. i know that eb can crank it in the studio. so in my book she has earned the right to play and openly fumble in her art making because i know what she can do in the studio and in her live show. this probably explains why i am a bit more forgiving.

    i can agree that the roberta flack joint was not her best work, but as i have said in other places, i love eb because of the off kilter way in which she makes her art. so the song is not her best, but i like her attitude (i’m big on intention) toward the song because she was going for something ethereal, spacy, trippy, and alluring–though it didn’t quite make it for some. i immediately thought that she was trying to chop and screw the joint with her own voice instrument as opposed to relying on the machines. there was something very texas about it–think lighting hopkins meets dj screw.

    but as a fan i say nice try, but run it back sis–thanks for sharing:) so i like the way she attempted to put her signature on the piece and make it her own. that in and of itself is worth something. i have always loved eb because of the rough edges and the incompleteness of her funk. i love how her search for self has always been on full display. so when she stumbles i see myself. i love when our humanity is on full display. eb creates feeling in places where others bring more refined artistry. so my rub is that so many have jumped down her throat since the window seat video and she gets characterized as some crazy chick who has lost her mind. i know that you have been supportive of her, but i will concede that my defense is linked to other reads of her latest work on the net.

    in terms of the rihanna vs badu piece i think that it is pretty obvious that you position ri as preferable when it comes to exploring the erotic. badu fails miserably and her failure is reduced to her latest offering, not the body of work. now your critique might have implied that you were considering the body of her work in your head, but that was not explicitly stated in your piece. i read–lorde defines erotic–rihanna fits the definition–eb failed in her attempt and does not bring the funk like ri does because of blah blah blah blah.

    but a back and forth is not necessary. the hotness always pokes and prods and makes me think. i am not a critic, you are. i have recently come to learn that it is very hard for me to be a critic of people i dig in the kinds of ways that the media industrial complex demands. its very difficult for me to be detached. i also find failure, missteps, and fumbles to be both interesting and tremendously generative in all sorts of ways–probably not what folks want to read about in vibe or rolling stone. anyway you good folks keep leading the way. i am a faithful reader of the hotness and i will always be back for more. oneheart!

  • Denise
    June 18th, 2012 2:37 pm

    I am very disappointed with EB…ugh! This was very well written and I appreciate your insights. On point.

  • Denise
    June 27th, 2012 11:03 pm

    I finally saw the video in its entirety. I had to keep stopping the video because I could not believe what was going on. This is wrong on so many levels. We could analyze the sugar honey ice tea out of it, but it all boils down to “how could she do this and not know the ramifications of her actions”. I am totally disgusted that she allowed these perverted men to use her or the likeness of her. She should have know better. I would have to agree that your article is on point, but I think both ladies have exploited themselves. They don’t understand how this will affect so many people on so many levels. I am so disgusted.

  • nikolangelo
    July 29th, 2012 5:11 pm

    badu is crap