Spankin’ (kinda) New Fridays : ‘Window Seat’ by Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu

After the video was released, Texan officials allegedly received an overwhelming amount of complaints about Erykah stripping down in the middle of a public space. Erykah has been fined $500 for this misdemeanor. In response to the controversy, Erykah said “I just wanted to bring dialogue to it. And I did. And they are still talking about it. And as long as they are talking about it, we know that they are being exposed to it… All I know is the Dallas chief of the police went to the record store last week and bought my album.”

We’ve now had almost 2 months to digest Erykah Badu’s controversial music video for ‘Window Seat,’ and I’m wondering what you think about it. To be honest, I needed some time for the video to marinate with me. I love me some Erykah, and I was excited that she was coming out with something new, but, initially, I was not seeing eye-to-eye with her latest creation. Since then, I’ve considered the  lyrics of the song in connection to  the video, and I feel like I see where Erykah is going with this… kinda.

The song itself is a bit dull and generic, but when used as a soundtrack for the music video, it boldly speaks to the issue of losing one’s individuality , or one’s artistry, in the business of flocking, or going with the crowd.

The video begins with an old recording announcing the arrival of John F.Kennedy the day he was assinated (the video was also shot in the same location of Kennedy’s assassination). When we first see Erykah, she is not in her usual ‘Spiritual Mama’ attire. Instead, she is wearing a black peacoat with a purple hoody peeking from the top,  a white T-shirt, and black sweats. Her hair, which is usually fashioned in an outa-sight-afro or brightly colored hair wrap, is covered in a black ‘cap.’ She is nothing special to look at. She is ordinary. She blends in with the crowd… until she begins to undress.

As soon as she takes off her white T-shirt, we see the word ‘EVOLVING’ written on her back, reminding us viewers that titillation is not an appropriate response to her uncovering.

As Erykah continues to undress, the camera zooms out and we see the impromptu audience staring at her, thus emphasizing that she no longer belongs in this flock. When  she is completely naked, and most visibly different from everyone else, she is shot dead. The next time we see Erykah, she is still naked, but now wears long beaded braids– bangs included– and a confident smile.

She sho' did put beads on her bangs...

When paired with the video, the lyrics take on a meaning of desiring a sense of belonging to the greater society, while still wanting to experience freedom. She sings:

I just want a chance to fly
A chance to cry
And a long bye bye..
But I need u to want me
Need you to miss me
I need your attention
I need you next me
I need someone to clap for me

Though I am beginning to digest Erykah’s video for myself, what I’m still trying to understand is the media’s response to the music video. My highly sensitive race analysis brings me to the question: What would be the response to a music video with a White performer stripping down in a public place? Oh wait– there have been White performers who have done a similar video. In fact, the first clip from the video says, ‘Inspired by Matt and Kim’ which are two White artists who also walked down a busy street (but in New York) in their music video for “Lessons Learned.” In my research I didn’t hear much controversy about their nudity,and I didn’t see anything about them getting sued.

Also alarming, is the attention that has been given to Badu’s body parts. Why has there been so much attention to the size of Erykah’s bum ( I never know how to describe a person’s bottom without sounding corny, inappropriate, or Canadian), thus echoing sentiments of Sara Baartman, AKA The Hottentot Venus?

Or maybe the controversy has nothing to do with race ( I suggest this grudgingly). Maybe it is due to the fact that Erykah Badu isn’t the usual suspect for such behavior? Ms. Badu is one of the foremothers of the neo-soul movement, and though she has always been a beautiful goddess, she has never been suspect to making such nude appearances? Or maybe the issue is her age– the 30s may be the new 20s, but at 39, Erykah Badu, again, is not part of the ‘sex-sells-market.’ Or is the controversy circling Erykah’s music video simply due to the fact that she is walking down a public street naked? Is our society too uptight to appreciate an artist’s attempt to challenge notions of art and ‘respectability’ via their own nudity?

Would you even say that this music video is artistic, or is it just a quick attempt to get people to buy her album? Would love to hear your thoughts…

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