No Disrespect: In Which Erykah Badu Falls Victim to 'The Male Gaze'

Last week an experimental music video (which has since been yanked from the web, per Erykah's management folk) featuring a collaborative effort from singer/performance artist extraordinaire, Erykah Badu and alternative rock band, The Flaming Lips for their project "Western Esotericism"... was released on the internet.  The video, which featured Erykah’s sister Nayrok in all her full-frontal ‘nakeditity', rubbing various substances— blood-like... stuff and a sticky white mixture that looked like male ejaculate— and glitter all over her body, drizzling the white stuff about her mouth and face, with occasional cut-away shots of Erykah (also naked in a tub of water) singing a staccato rendition of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" while Wayne Coyne waved some… foil thing around.  The visuals stupefying to say the least, and even outdid Erykah’s other naked, controversial video for her song “Window Seat”… which appeared less opaque once she explained the social message she was trying to convey. 

Her latest effort with The Flaming Lips however, left some fans scrambling for an explanation… while others were put off entirely, vowing never to watch it again. Some folks across the Twitter-verse and Facebook commended Erykah for being fearless and waxed poetic about what Nayrok’s sensual expression symbolized. Granted, some folks sounded as if they were blowing hot, putrid air, but boy did they speculate and try to tie it all together into a cohesive meaning.   
Erykah herself, commended her sister Nayrok for being a good sport for sacrificing her body in the name of artistic expression. While I didn’t even attempt to formulate my own interpretation of the video, I did find it interesting and chalked it up to Erykah and Nayrok embracing their bodies on their termsThose with a keener eye, saw it for what it was and didn’t buy it as art; and so refused to whip out their checkbooks to co-sign for the meat that was being sold. The video was deemed another exploitative piece of work showing Black female bodies on display for male profit and for the male gaze (a notion Black feminist Bell Hooks challenges in her essay “The Oppositional Gaze”). I left the video open to interpretation because I assumed Erykah would eventually offer an explanation. 

According to Black cinema blog Shadow and Act, Erykah has since reached out to her fans via Twitter and asked what they thought about the video. After receiving a wide range of responses, Badu then posed another puzzling question: “What if the video has no meaning at all? Now how do u feel?” 

In a far more interesting chain of events, Erykah's professional relationship with The Flaming Lips' lead singer Wayne Coyne, publicly imploded due to what appeared to be a sinister example of exploitation. In an official statement, Coyne more or less admitted to releasing an unfinished and unedited version of the controversial video to the public, before getting the input of Erykah and her sister and before green-screening away the nudity like he allegedly promised to do, according to the singer. Erykah explained her agitation after Wayne aired her grievance on Twitter. He also released the following statement...
The video link that was erroneously posted on Pitchfork by the Flaming Lips of the Music Video 'The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face', which features Erykah Badu, is unedited and unapproved... Sorry!! We, the Flaming Lips, accept full responsibility for prematurely having Pitchfork post it. It has outraged and upset a segment of fans and we apologize if we offended any viewers!!! This is a Flaming Lips video which features Erykah Badu and her sister Nayrok and is not meant to be considered an Erykah Badu or Nayrok statement, creation, or approved version.
Erykah was none too pleased and fired off a litany of angry words of her own, expressing her dismay and regret for not listening to her initial feelings of apprehension about Wayne's idea...
@waynecoyne then... perhaps, next time u get an occasion to work with an artist who respects your mind/art, you should send at least a ROUGh version of the video u PLAN to release b4 u manipulate or compromise the artist's brand by desperately releasing a poor excuse for shock and nudity that sends a convoluted message that passes as art( to some).Even with Window Seat there was a method and thought process involved. I have not one need for publicity . I just love artistic dialogue . And just because an image is shocking does not make it art. You obviously have a misconception of who I am artistically. I don't mind that but...By the way you are an ass. Yu did everything wrong from the on set .  
First: You showed me a concept of beautiful tasteful imagery( by way of vid text messages) .  
I trusted that. I was mistaken. Then u release an unedited, unapproved version within the next few days.  
That all spells 1 thing , Self Serving . When asked what the concept meant after u explained it , u replied ,"it doesn't mean anything , I just want to make a great video that everyone is going to watch. " I understood , because as an artist we all desire that. But we don't all do it at another artist's expense . I attempted to resolve this respectfully by having conversations with u after the release but that too proved to be a poor excuse for art. From jump, You begged me to sit in a tub of that other shit and I said naw. I refused to sit in any liquid that was not water. But Out of RESPECT for you and the artist you 'appear' to be, I Didn't wanna kill your concept , wanted u to at least get it out of your head . After all, u spent your dough on studio , trip to Dallas etc.. Sooo, I invited Nayrok , my lil sis and artist, who is much more liberal ,to be subject of those other disturbing (to me) scenes. (Read the rest here). 
Needless to say, the video went against all the tenets of 'Baduizm': it harbored no real meaning like people wanted it to, it wasn’t Erykah’s full vision like many of us assumed it to be, contrary to the usual proprietary authority Erykah has over her art, it appears as if she (and her sister) got bamboozled and used… which is unfortunate: “As a sociologist I understand your type. As your fellow artist I am uninspired. As a woman I feel violated and underestimated.”

There are many lessons to be gleaned from these sorts of situations, particularly when you're a Black woman trying to maintain ownership and respect over your image and body within the realm of the arts and media. And while Badu seems philosophical about the jarring experience...  "He’s got a record coming out, so you do what you do. But as artists we don’t do it at each other’s expense. I  adore his art. But not at my expense.”  

... I think Maya Angelou's warning very concisely sums it all up: “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

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