29 March 2010

A Southern Gul, Southern Genius Feeding Her Own Meter

Though I am ostensibly a U.S. Citizen (some days it feels tenuous as hell), I also have a Crunchy Nation green card, which means my Twitter feed was full of earth mother goddesses, headwraps, and the like drooling over Erykah Badu's new video for "Window Seat," the lead single from her album, New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh.  They think it's genius; they are probably right.  Erykah Badu makes the best music videos ever.





I had a (non-crunchy) friend tell me that if Erykah Badu started an army she'd enlist.  Erykah Badu is, it seems, magical.  How many other (black) women in the entertainment industry possess agency and respect enough to publicly disrobe in a way that we, as viewers, would find liberating--and not commodifying?  (Magic!)  Seeing Ms. Badu in full art mode, I'm inclined to abandon pacifism, and declare war on whatever enemy Ms. Badu deems worthy of some militaristic wrath.   How can I not want to be down with someone who seems to be so unequivocally herself in world that relies on stereotypes (name a rapper), caricatures (name a rapper), and recycled product (Gaga, meet Madonna) to sustain itself and titillate us?

I'm sure the blogosphere is bursting with a myriad of responses to the video, analyses especially concerned with the symbolism of Badu removing her clothes and whatnot.  What struck me, however, was the scene Badu creates in which to disrobe: she revises the JFK assassination to do it.  Badu pulls up to the curb in a Lincoln (another assassinated President) with the suicide doors, foreshadowing her figurative death and implying that what she's about to do is the result of her own hand(s).  After walking through part of downtown Dallas, Badu is shot on the Grassy Knoll, the space where witnesses, including Abraham Zapruder, watched the assassination; it's also the foundation for one of the prevailing JFK conspiracy theories.

What does it mean that Badu reinvigorates a popular American myth (of Camelot)--and its subsequent conspiracy-- for this individuality-saving exercise?  Especially, if I may take it there, since 2009 reminded folks that the "Age of Obama"  was not going to be Chocolate Camelot remixed 2.0.  More specifically, though, lack of understanding and group think may not be the only reasons for assassinating Badu, as she kind of suggests at the end of the video.  The JFK assassination effectively ended and jarred folks out of an idealized image of the presidency.  Camelot died right on that white X.  How often have Badu's fans not lacked understanding, but actually refused to understand the nuances of her as an artist?  So many of the folks who embraced the genius of this latest endeavor only really dig Badu when she's burning incense, and only enthusiastically await this new album because of what the subtitle promises: a (sonic) return to the ankh.  

What's so dope about Erykah's shows is the motley audience she attracts.  I've been to Badu concerts with my mama, my white homegirl, Rachel, and the homie Maegs (a crunchy role model if there ever was one).  And we're all there for different reasons.  Some are waiting for "Tyrone."  Others want Badu the revolutionary.  Many more wait for Badu to articulate their heart break with a cappella version of "Green Eyes."  Everybody, on some level, fucks with Badu, but how many of us have learned to fuck with all of Badu?   We are reluctant to accept her evolution--hence the tattoo.  Yes, we love "Window Seat," but don't we hate "Jump up in the Air" just because Weezy was on it, and not because his verse was lightweight disappointing?

Above all, the assassination at the end of "Window Seat" reminds me of Badu's generation of soul singers, their survival, and our roles in their symbolic, public deaths: Maxwell (he didn't disappear for all those years just because he wanted a vacation, I'm sure), D'Angelo, Lauryn.  Near that pantheon is Dave Chappelle, and perhaps to a lesser extent Aaron McGruder.  What Badu's video harkens, for me at least, is some of her peers' efforts to fully express their artistry, themselves as individuals.  That, of course, is an implicit suicide mission, resulting in public assassination and their subsequent disappearance.  (What happens if the puppet decides to cut its own strings?)  The public, then, is left with nothing to do but masticate on conspiracy theories.  We endlessly speculate on the how's and why's of Lauryn's mental state and D'Angelo's junkie status.  And in the process of investing in this myth (of the neo-soul, conscious icon) we kill them, and their humanity...softly.

Maybe Erykah is magical.  She survives.  She time travels.  She dies; we witness her rebirth.  She endures in ways her peers haven't without, in my understanding of her, compromising in the way that others do.  (Will the real Common please stand up?)  It's fascinating to watch an artist maintain her integrity in public.  Makes me want to jump up in the air--and stay there.

6 comments:

safire blew said...

uh, yeah, everything you said...

i think that maybe seeing badu go beyond the ankh is the reason why i began (rather than stopped) fucking with her...

i think she is one of the only truer approximations (cause she isn't queer i don't think, right?) of the complexity of black womanhood enduring in the culture...

or maybe that's a little grandiose. anywho, i like her a lot. i wish i was one of those friends you've seen a show with. i've never seen her live. i hope to this go round. i may even take my shirt off and throw it on stage in tribute.

RaShonda said...

Yes, yes, yes.

"Everybody, on some level, fucks with Badu, but how many of us have learned to fuck with all of Badu?"

"How many other (black) women in the entertainment industry possess agency and respect enough to publicly disrobe in a way that we, as viewers, would find liberating--and not commodifying? "

You are a genious. Thanks for this :-)

RaShonda said...

*genius :-)

summer of sam said...

@saf: badu live is what's up. she's so dope.

@rashond: thanks, boo.

C.L. Jones said...

Dopely put. I don't hate Jump up in the Air, I mostly hate the video and really hate Weezy's verse. That is All.

softestbullet said...

Awesome analysis!

Designer Labels

$40 million slaves (3) 2010 (1) 4-letter words (1) 80s (1) 8th grade (1) 90s (4) a different world (1) africa (1) aladdin (1) american values (4) amy winehouse (1) anderson cooper (1) anniversary (3) antoine dodson (1) apple (1) arizona (1) athletes (1) awkward black girl (1) barack obama (13) barbara walters (1) basketball (6) beer (1) bet (1) BET Awards (2) beyonce (4) bill clinton (1) bill duke (1) bill withers (1) birthdays (1) black beauty (1) black girls (4) black kids (4) black like me (1) black love is dead (2) black masculinity (1) black people (13) black respectability (1) black thought (1) black women (7) blacks (1) blame it on the alcohol (1) blaphemy (1) blind side (1) blizzard (1) blogging (1) bob marley (1) Bobby Brown (1) books (4) brandy (1) bryan safi (1) bryant gumbel (1) burger kind (1) cam'ron (1) capitalism (2) census 2010 (1) cereal (1) chappelle's show (1) charles barkley (1) chaz bono (1) chicago (3) chick-fil-a (2) chris broussard (1) chris brown (1) christmas (3) cinema (2) class (1) college (1) college basketball (1) coming out (1) commencement (2) commercials (2) common (3) current tv (1) d'angelo (2) dad (1) daddy (1) dark girls (1) dave chappelle (1) david stern (1) dead prez (1) death penalty (2) dee rees (1) democracy (1) dibs (1) diddy (1) dilla (1) dirty laundry (1) disaster (1) disney (1) dissertation (4) diva (1) don't ask don't tell (1) donell jones (1) drew brees (1) dwele (2) ebony (1) eddie long (1) education (1) election (1) enwhitlement (1) erica jong (1) erykah badu (3) esperanza spaulding (1) espn (2) et. al. (1) etc. (1) facebook (1) faggot (1) family (1) family stand (1) fantasy football (1) federal holidays (1) feminism (1) film (2) football (7) for colored girls (1) forgiveness (2) fox news (1) free agency 2010 (1) freedom (2) gabby sidibe (3) game (1) gang starr (1) gay hip hop (1) gender (1) geraldo rivera (1) ghetto heaven (1) gifts (1) god (1) going green (2) golf (1) grace jones (1) graduate school (1) graduation (2) grandma (1) grant hill (2) grocery shopping (1) guns (1) guru (1) haiti (4) hall of fame (1) halloween (1) harlem (1) harper lee (1) harry reid (1) hateration (1) henry louis gates (1) high school (1) hip hop (3) holding history (1) hood pass (1) hoodies (1) huck finn (2) hurricane katrina (1) immigration (3) instant vintage (2) internet (1) introductions (1) ipad (1) ipod (1) isiah thomas (1) jail (2) jalen rose (2) janelle monae (1) janet jackson (1) jazmine sullivan (1) jennifer hudson (1) john howard griffin (1) john mayer (1) jokes (2) just jokes (1) kanye west (2) kelly dodson (1) kfc (1) kia (1) kim wayans (1) kinky reggae (1) kitty kelley (1) kobe (1) kobe bryant (1) kreayshawn (1) krs-one (1) kwanzaa (1) lamya (1) language (1) late night with jimmy fallon (1) latin america (1) laurence fishburne (1) lauryn hill (6) lebron james (6) lena horne (1) lenny kravitz (1) lesbians of color (1) levar burton (1) lgbt (1) life after death (2) lists (1) little dragon (1) live blogging (1) logan square (1) long live the message (1) lupe fiasco (1) macon d. (1) magic johnson (1) maia campbell (1) making the band (1) man men (1) march madness (1) mariah carey (1) mark twain (1) marriage (1) martin lawrence (1) martin luther the king (3) mary j. blige (1) masculinity (1) mayor (1) me (1) mexicans (1) michael jackson (9) michael jordan (1) michael vick (1) michelle obama (1) Mike Tyson (1) military (1) MLK Day (1) mo'nique (1) mom (1) monday (1) money (3) montana fishburne (1) morality (1) movies (7) muhsinah (1) multiracial (1) muppets (1) music (19) my block (1) my former life (4) my personal issues (14) mystic brew (1) n (1) nannie (5) national coming out day (1) nba (2) negroes (7) new orleans (1) nfl (1) nigger (1) nihilism (2) nike (1) nina simone (1) nobel peace prize (1) not voting (1) occupy wall street (2) octavia spencer (1) oprah winfrey (4) osama bin laden (2) oscar (2) oscar grant (1) painting (1) pariah (1) pat robertson (2) paul beatty (1) paul laurence dunbar (1) paula patton (1) peyton manning (1) phaedra parks (2) phd (1) pictures (1) playboy (1) plays (1) poetry (2) police (2) politics (10) polkadotted stripes (5) pop life (56) porn (1) post cereal (1) post-race (18) post-soul (1) postmodernism (1) precious (5) prop 8 (1) push (1) qpoc (1) queen latifah (4) queer as folk (6) quoteable (1) racialicious (1) racism (14) randomness (1) reading is fundamental (2) repeal (1) resolutions (1) retirement (1) rhoa (1) richard daley (1) Rick James (1) rick perry (1) rihanna (1) robots (1) robyn crawford (1) rolling in the whip (1) rumors (6) run on (1) running (1) sade (1) sammy sosa (1) samples (1) sandra bullock (3) sapphire (1) school (1) sesame street (1) sexuality (9) Shingai Shoniwa (1) shows (1) slang (1) slavery (2) slum village (1) slurs (1) snoop dogg (1) sotomayor (1) soulja boy (1) sports (8) starbucks (1) stuff white people do (1) super bowl (2) survival (1) Teena Marie (1) tell him (1) terence trent d'arby (1) the 70s (1) the 80s (2) the banal. (1) the blind side (1) the civil rights movement (1) the clipse (1) the color purple (1) the cosby show (1) the dougie (1) the everyday (1) the fab five (3) the foreign exchange (1) the golden girls (1) the gregory brothers (1) the help (2) the hunger games (2) the lion king (1) the lovers and friends show (1) the new year (1) the NOISEttes (1) the nutcracker (1) the princess and the frog (1) the puppets (1) the roots (1) the smurfs (1) the view (1) the white boy shuffle (1) this is it (1) tiger woods (4) to kill a mockingbird (1) toure (1) toussaint l'ouverture (1) trader joe's (2) trayvon martin (2) trouble the water (1) troy davis (1) tv (1) twelve (1) twitter (1) tyler perry (5) usc (1) valentine's day (1) viola davis (1) voodoo (1) voting (1) Wayne Brady (1) web series (1) white house correspondents dinner (1) white house press corps (1) white men (1) white people (1) white saviors (1) white women (1) white women rappers (1) whitney houston (4) whoopi goldberg (1) will.i.am (1) william rhoden (1) william wordsworth (1) willow smith (2) wishing well (1) women (1) world cup (1) writing (1) wyclef (1) zo (1)