Music, identity and Erykah Badu: Haters, please!
By mypolaropposite on March 31, 2010
#NowPlaying in my iTunes rotation: the entire Erykah Badu musical oeuvre, Tyrone and all. Why? First of all, her new album dropped today and like the good fan that I am, I pre-ordered that shit last week and downloaded it as soon as it was available. Second, she's a little strange and unpredictable and undefinable, and I like that in an artist, especially when that artist is black and female and has had a long career being/doing whatever she feels like at the time. You feeling me?
Yeah, I've been a fan of Erykah Badu from way back, from before she got with my future husband Common. (I will forgive her - and Serena Williams - for that because he's ER'RYBODY'S future husband.) But she really got me during a concert about 10 years ago in Los Angeles when she pulled off her Afro wig to reveal a shaved head and then proceeded to dance around the stage with such abandon that all we could do was watch - and groove - with eyes open and mouths agape. I turned to the girlfriend during the show and said, "Wow! She's so FREE." And I'm one of those new-age, neo-hippie folks who thinks freedom is the point of art, and the point of life. As far as I'm concerned, Erykah Badu gets it and shows it off at every opportunity.
Now, with the release of the "Window Seat" video, people are talking about how it's a rip-off of Matt and Kim, or how nudity is derivative, or how they just don't like the video as much as the one for "Telephone." Then the conversation turns to what her body looks like and whether the video was really shot in one take because her behind doesn't really look like that. As a matter of fact, when I was looking for photos to add to this post, Google saw my search for "Erykah Badu" and suggested a popular search for "Erykah Badu booty." They weren't referring to her song with that title, they meant her actual ass. Hmph. That makes me mad. For the last three days, Ms. Badu - a.k.a. @fatbellybella - has been lighting up the Twitterverse in an effort to define the video as a metaphor for groupthink. Uh, I'm going to suggest some reading, or at least a trip to a search engine, to those misguided souls who tweeted "what is groupthink?" directly to @fatbellybella this weekend. Y'all need help, and she thinks so too: that retweet wasn't a shout-out, it was more like a plea for help. I'm just saying.
Here's my problem with all of the rigmarole surrounding the Window Seat video: after the intelligent discussions around personal identity, conformity, community and other issues, people just boiled it down to "Damn, she was naked? What did that look like?" Nudity can be a metaphor when used in the right context, even when it is derivative. Our society so used to women taking their clothes off for attention, or for money, that we've really lost sight of what it means to be naked. I have seen so many female butt cheeks in music videos, on public transportation, on dumb-ass reality shows that I'm almost numb to the sight. Maybe because I'm heterosexual and don't find female body parts that exciting or entertaining. I did, however, start the #IfIHadAnOnionBooty hashtag the other night because my ass is not my best feature, and I might like to work on that someday. Leaving my ever-sagging tuchus out of this discussion, what does it mean when a woman who isn't about showing her body decides to strip naked for all of Dallas - and all of us - to see? Whatever you think of the video, or whatever you think about Erykah Badu, you should chew on that idea for a moment.
I'm mad at people trying to put the same old spin on a black woman's self-definition, and boiling it down to just our bodies all of the time. We're back again to the Hottentot Venus, folks trying to make fun and make money off what we look like instead of listening to what we're saying about ourselves and the meanings we promote. To paraphrase the lyrics of "Window Seat": I want to get up outta here, don't want nobody next to me. BUT I need you to want me, love me, pay attention to me, clap for me. Stiil, beam me up, Scotty! I'll say again: Erykah Badu gets it, the struggle between being yourself and being loved, consumed, appreciated (and paid, because her babies gotta eat, too) as an artist, a woman, a person. Maybe getting naked is getting noticed, but when we start paying attention to her, we get more than just a body. We get to learn that she's "evolving" (did anyone notice that word written on her back? It would have been a foot or so above her ass), and we get to hear good, funky, jazzy, groovy tunes with some futuristic sounds and signature Badu vocals.
In closing, I refer to the words of another of my favorite female singers, the extraordinarily talented Jill Scott: "Hate on me hater...'cuz I'm gonna do me/Don't be mad, baby."
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