Window Seat: Does Erykah Badu's Booty Obscure Her Artistic Message?

A People.com poll posted yesterday afternoon asks, "Did Erykah Badu Go Too Far in Naked New Video?" So far, almost 60% of respondents agree.

At the intersection of sexism, nudity, and art sits Badu's latest artistic endeavor, the controversial music video for her first official single, Window Seat. And everyone's been talking about it.

Window Seat: Does Erykah Badu's Booty Obscure Her Artistic Message?

The video features Badu walking through Dallas's historic Dealey Plaza, the site of the Kennedy assassination, while stripping down to nothing but a hat. The crowd of bystanders includes children. It ends with what appears to be Badu's own assassination by gunshot, after she removes the last of her clothing.

The internet has been ablaze with wide-ranging reactions and commentary following the video's debut last wekeend:

"It is not just about the nudity — it is also about where she decided to film this piece of junk....and then to include the gun shot....it was very disrespectful. ... she did this with no regard for anyone else but herself." – thm, posted on the Dallas Morning News site, March 30th

"I think Erykah Badu is brilliant. That video was the deepest, most sincere, undeniably real video I've ever seen. EVER." –Tyeastia, posted on CNN.com March 31st

"Sorry. I appreciate the statement and the thought behind the video, and I'm also a huge Badu fan. That said, the nudity and subsequent mock assassination? With the children present? Sorry, I'm not feeling it." –Shola Akinnuso, posted on The Root, March 30th

Badu's video is undoubtedly an atom bomb of visual imagery. As an artist who has never shied away from articulating her consciousness-raising agenda through metaphor, the Window Seat video has prompted many to ask, does Erykah Badu's booty obscure her artistic message?

Window Seat: Does Erykah Badu's Booty Obscure Her Artistic Message?


In explaining her artistic goals for the video, Badu acknowledges the controversy:

It is a little controversial. I guess people would say that in the video I shed a lot of emotion and a lot of baggage by way of shedding clothing. And I do this in the middle of a busy street, which is totally probably something that is not accepted in society. Thus, definitely not conforming to what society would expect you to do and because . . . I guess 85% of the world is a part of what we would call Groupthink, that's like a form of thinking that causes you to bury what you really feel inside to please the group so that you won't be ostracized by the group. It's a comfort zone we create for ourselves and I go outside of that comfort zone and the video says everything. It's open for discussion. . . .

Window Seat: Does Erykah Badu's Booty Obscure Her Artistic Message?

In many spaces, women's nudity can be exploitative, subjugating, and objectifying. In one of the video's central themes, Badu demonstrates that when a woman decides to appear nude in a public space like Dealey Plaza (or in the meta sense, in a music video) for a purpose other than titillation, there's something wrong with her disruption of social norms. Something so wrong that when Badu disrobes, she is violently assassinated.

Window Seat: Does Erykah Badu's Booty Obscure Her Artistic Message?

Badu believes in the power of individuals to combat Groupthink. In a voiceover at the end of Window Seat, Badu says of conformists, "They play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they do not understand . . . This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual. A single person within our circumstance can move one to change." And yesterday Badu tweeted, "The butt naked truth is powerful America!!!!" Badu sees her nudity as a tool to discourage conformity and rally others to do what she does best - i.e. the unexpected and unaccepted.
Yet, the public reactions to the video speak very little about Badu's artistic vision. The reactions fixate on the video's obvious targets. Does this mean that Badu's use of nudity is actually a perpetuation of the very thing she sets out to contest (objectification, conformity)?

Stereotypes about women, especially African American women, and their femininity and sexuality are pervasive in music videos. I appreciate the fact that Badu has always resisted perpetuating these stereotypes. But Badu has never presented herself in this way before, completely nude. For years, Badu's defining aesthetic features have been her elaborate head wraps, braids, and eclectic wardrobe, all of which served to obscure a figure, and booty, I never knew existed. This time around, everyone has noticed.

Blogs have posted the video with little commentary other than a mention of her newfound defining feature. Crunktastical had just one example of such commentary:

I didn't expect to see Erykah Badu gazing out into the heavens while seated on a vacant airplane in the video for her latest single "Window Seat" because that's just now what she does.

And then I saw that ass.

After a life full of eating processed foods all the aspiring video chicks who have their asses as their icon on Twitter are about to start embracing a vegan lifestyle. Only time will tell if they yield the same results…

They don't bother to talk about Groupthink here.

Rather than dismissing or ignoring online comments exclusively admiring her body instead of her message, she's actually retweeted several of them:

nonecknovak
@fatbellybella great ass and amazing video cant wait for the album!!
10:59 PM Mar 28th via web Retweeted by fatbellybella and 3 others

RT:Can't seem to get "window seat" outta my head..or tha video neither! Damn erykah badu thick as $75 worth of lunchmeat (via @Nickelology)
2:26 AM Mar 29th via Tweetie

Even elements of the video appear to deliberately sexualize Badu's nudity. For example, it's only when Badu takes off her pants does the camera move from filming her from the front to following her primarily from behind and the sides. I get it: there is value in varied points of view for a single camera, but the timing is suspect and for just a moment, I wasn't sure if this hurt more than it helped.

The Drudge link flagging the controversial video on Tuesday was: "Singer strips nude at JFK assassination site in new video...". Media outlets covering reactions to the video focus almost exclusively on the acceptability of nudity, the use of the site of the Kennedy assassination, and moral debates about videos that "go too far." An article on reactions to the video in the Dallas Morning News offers plenty of opinions, but little commentary on the themes of nonconformity and Groupthink. Even Badu's supporters, as highlighted in the piece, are mum.

Badu appears to have recognized that her message might be obscured by the controversy. Yesterday, she began streaming the Window Seat video backwards on her website. Badu's poignant narration explaining her artistic message is now played at the very beginning. I can imagine that over the past few days, many watched clips of the video with the nudity, but didn't wait until the end to hear Badu speak. Perhaps that's the purpose of streaming backwards. She hints at this in yesterday's tweet, encouraging people to "listen" after having "watched":

WINDOW SEAT RE- EXAMINED 3:33pm www.erykahbadu.com Watched... Now listen
about 15 hours ago via web

Yet, I'm going to give Badu the benefit of the doubt on this one. I find it difficult to blame her for the fact that others are misappropriating her message. In the tradition of Baduizm, Badu does not temper her independent energy and goes about pursuing her agenda in her own, sincere manner. I don't think this is nudity for the sake of attention or shock value. If her booty gets in the way, just a bit, fine. The more people who see the video, the more effective Badu will be in meeting her artistic agenda against conformity.

Related: POLL: Did Erykah Badu Go Too Far in Naked New Video? [People]
Reactions To Erykah Badu's Nude Dealey Plaza Video Range From Groans To Yawns [Dallas Morning News]
Singer Erykah Badu Strips At JFK Assassination Site In New Video [CNN]
Freeing The Black Woman's Body: Erykah Badu Bared All In Her Latest Video. Is This Progress? [The Root]
Erykah Badu On Her Controversial ‘Window Seat' Video And New Album [WSJ]
Delayed Reaction: Erykah Badu – "Window Seat" (Video) [Crunktastical]
FatBellyBella [Erykah Badu's Twitter]