Erykah Badu’s New Video for “Window Seat”: Feminist Art or Shameless Publicity Stunt? (NSFW)

This weekend, the blogosphere was taken by storm when Erykah Badu released a music video for “Window Seat,” the first single off her brand new album. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already, although please be warned that this is most definitely Not Safe For Work.
In the video, Badu is seen stripping down from a hoodie and pants to her birthday suit on a public street. I won’t spoil the rest of the video for you, but let’s just say the ending definitely caught me off guard. A surprise “plot twist” turns this video into something much deeper than your average music video “striptease”.
Or does it?
The video was meant to be a statement against “groupthink” and for rawness, realness, truth, and vulnerability in art and in life. Yeah! I dig that. I personally am a huge fan of Badu’s since way back, precisely because she pushes the envelope and works to achieve a level of truth in her art that is hard to come by these days. She is dope.
But while Badu seemed to be trying to use nudity to make a point about artistic vulnerability in this video, I’m not sure that I’m entirely convinced that she manages to transcend objectification and commodification as well as she might have liked to.
That being said, this video was clearly made to be provocative and evoke opinion, so I won’t bore you with mine, mostly because I’m still forming it. It seems like there are almost as many opinions about this video as there are viewers of it. Erykah Badu spent the better part of her weekend retweeting the opinions of some of her followers on Twitter. Comments of support included:
“I admire your innate ability 2 think outside the box….society suppresses individuality for fear of it!! Evolve or die!!:)”
“u successfully showed how female body’s an instrument,not an ornament. Art/vision is insane«-bold! inspired.”
“video was a success. It made us discuss things that are deeper than the surface.”
Other comments were not as supportive or “in on it.” Some accused Erykah of just trying to generate buzz around her album, and some people made sexualized comments about her body (“she got a donk”).
So Feministing community, I turn to you. What to make of this? Do you think this is a “feminist” video? What do you make of Badu’s nudity? Is it inspired? Art? Genius? Or is it just a publicity stunt that objectifies a woman’s body in the process of selling albums? Is the video politically feminist? Purely artistic? Or does it manage to be both? I’m just trying to make sense of what I’m seeing….Let’s get to the bottom of this together.

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24 Comments

  1. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    There’s nothing original about Erykah Badu’s video it’s deriviative as all hell and the concept has been done before (and better)
    By Matt and Kim’s “Lessons Learned”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJkymylTNU4
    Who in turn copied from Make The Girl Dance’s “Baby Baby Baby”
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x99ein_make-the-girl-dance-baby-baby-baby_music
    The only thing Badu added was the whole Dealey Plaza JFK assassination element.
    As for the nudity, I don’t have a problem with it at all (but that has damned little to do with Badu’s intent for this video to be artistic and avant garde and a whole hell of a lot to do with me being a heterosexual man – I’m sure a lot of the straight men viewing this video will have the same reaction I did).

  2. CLM
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    You forgot to mention that this video is inspired by another video making the rounds on the internet, in which a young white heterosexual couple strips in public as passersby gawk.
    This video is different, however, not only because Badu is alone but because she is a Black woman. The Black female body has historically been understood to be ugly, promiscuous, monstrous, etc. Just think about racist science and the “Great Chain of Being” in which the Black female is positioned at the very bottom of a hierarchy, with, of course, White bodies at the top. Renee of Womanist Musings has a great analysis up in which she describes Black women as society’s “unwomen.”
    In this context, I think that Badu’s video is far more subversive than a cursory glance would suggest. She stands proud, not ashamed of her body. Despite slut shaming and media focus on her body as being untamed (her hair, especially), she is not embarrassed or ashamed. She does not seem to be lascivious or sexual in this video, simply nude. The word “evolve” on her back is important too, I think.

  3. kaje
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I see no video.

  4. amy_sarah
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    why are you “not sure that … she manages to transcend objectification and commodification as well as she might have liked to”? how effing patronizing.
    how would she have done that? is there a specific way to “transcend” sexual objectification as a woman? I’m not really sure of what you are looking for, and projecting onto the artist.
    instead of saying that Badu “seemed to be trying to use nudity to make a point about artistic vulnerability in this video”, can we say that we have enough respect for Badu, and for women, to trust that their artistic intentions have weight and power?

  5. Mighty Ponygirl
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Maybe you should go ahead and spoil it… since the video has been blocked.

  6. paper tiger
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I agree with CLM:
    “In this context, I think that Badu’s video is far more subversive than a cursory glance would suggest. She stands proud, not ashamed of her body. Despite slut shaming and media focus on her body as being untamed (her hair, especially), she is not embarrassed or ashamed. She does not seem to be lascivious or sexual in this video, simply nude. The word “evolve” on her back is important too, I think.”
    Why must nudity always imply sexuality, or sex, or just shallowness, and since what is actually wrong with nudity itself or the female form itself? Yes there is a tide of overly sexualised women in music videos but this video doesn’t fit that trend at all.
    I think, having not see any of the videos that inspired it, it was interesting and slightly different. Why must we rip it to shreds here because she takes her clothes off?
    I know a lot of you love to over-analyse but this is really taking the biscuit. Like CLM says, she stands proud, so at least back her up and show your support!

  7. AnnieW
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    If she was using her body to sell herself as an object, we’d have the gaze, the blatant “do me” sexualization and not this demonstration of vulnerability and maybe “nutty lady in underwear walking the streets” vibe.
    What I did notice is that she is, most definitely, wearing the wrong size bra. If she was wearing one that fit properly and was comfortable, perhaps she wouldn’t be so quick to take it off.

  8. Dawn.
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ve loved Badu since way back too. She was so important to me when I was in middle and high school. I didn’t have many other black women artists I looked up to, and she comfortably filled that void. Her songs Cleva and Kiss me on my neck and Green Eyes… wow, I played those to death. She inspired me to go natural, and I did. No more chemical relaxers for me! :) I used to listen to her albums on repeat while I wrote furiously in my bedroom. Basically, she was a goddess to me back then and I shamefully forgot about her until I heard about this video.
    I loved it. I don’t think any woman has control over whether she is objectified, and I’m surprised you didn’t mention what CLM did: black women’s bodies have been historically degraded. We were (are) considered mere sex objects. We were (are) constantly animalized and painted as deviants. Badu walking naked, proud, and free brought tears to my eyes because her body looks just like mine and she’s not ashamed and it’s not for male sexual titillation. IMO this video praises individuality and social evolution – the kind of evolution we need, i.e. getting past “groupthink,” sexism, racism, etc. That’s the Badu I know and love.

  9. Tracey T
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I need to hurry up and do my next round of blood donations because I’ve already decided on what my next tat will be. Hint: it is a word

  10. supremepizza
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the links. In the case of the Matt & Kim video & Badu video, were these closed sets? Or was some sort of trick photography used to make it seem like they were walking around naked? Its hard to tell, esp with the Matt & Kim video.
    Adults can do whatever they want in the privacy of their home, but walking around public squares butt naked with little kids around seems a bit edgy just to promote a CD.

  11. katemoore
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    The phrase “death of the author” comes to mind here. In a sense, what matters isn’t so much what the creator intended as how audiences take it. What we should be doing is looking at that.
    So the video’s already gone through the Google Trends pulper and what’s come out is far less gray. From the Trends site, as of 3:45 p.m., here’s what was on there:
    “window seat video uncut”
    “erykah badu window seat video unedited”
    “erykah badu strips uncut”
    Basically, attempts to see more nudity. Nothing about political content, just de-pixellation. And the blogs are following suit:
    “Here is the video that everyone is searching for today where you can see a popular musician who takes off her clothes for you! Here is Erykah Badu getting naked for you.” (Anonymous entity on Gather, a thinly-veiled search term spam blog that nevertheless gets high play on Google News. Notice how it is advertised. Political content? Uh, no.)
    “Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” video is marvelous for many reasons, and not just because the Princess of Nu-Soul gets naked at the end.” (MTV, written by a dude. Note the “not just because” — I’m reminded of Maggie Balistreri’s book on “evasion English.” This particular construction isn’t there, but everyone knows that “not just because” is supposed to read as “but the real reason is because.”)
    “Erykah Badu walks through the city stripping down and she walks along, and for that reason people are talking about this video.” (Examiner, another spam blog; this one’s a particularly poor specimen of an article, but nevertheless, notice what is noteworthy here.”

  12. cattrack2
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Don’t know that there’s anything terribly subversive about stripping naked in a public place & parading around. They’ve been doing it since the ’60s. Its called streaking.
    True, she’s not being lascivious but she is forcing her nudity on everyone else–including their kids–standing there. I’m sure that’s a crime.
    If we’re tired of the hyper-sexualization of black women then we shouldn’t pull cheap publicity stunts which help hyper-sexualize black women. She’s going to need to sell a bunch of CDs to pay for the inevitable lawsuits just around the corner.
    Erykah Badu is no Janet Jackson.

  13. cattrack2
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always liked Badu too, but now I’m seriously re-thinking that. Don’t you think she’s taking advantage of everyone else in the park? You really think its ok for people to walk around parks naked? If this was a Howard Stern stunt would you still support it?

  14. Athenia
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Who shot her? The video turns to the grassy knoll and we see a young,black, clothed, smiling woman. Was that implying she shot her?

  15. ahopper
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    What I see with this video is a young black woman unburdening herself, removing the baggage, stepping out of all of the things that constrain her and trying to exist within her own skin without everything society tries to burden her with. With each steps she takes, she’s evolving, changing from what she was before.
    I think that this video is meant to be an inner process. We’re getting window seats. For the most part, no one around her notices that she’s getting naked. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that some people look at her and watch her but most people aren’t looking, aren’t staring. They’re just going about their everyday business. At the start, we see someone in a red coat who is watching her, chasing her, trying to give her back the clothing, but this person quickly fades away. Everyone isn’t watching her evolve, but we are. I think this is an internal process.
    She’s setting in her own skin, changing, becoming an individual, the person she wants to be. Its also telling that she starts to run and take off her hoodie but then stops, zips it back up, keeps walking and then later takes it off. It reminds me of the starts and stops we all make on such journeys. At the end, as soon as she becomes fully free, and is standing in the sun, shining, she’s shot. She’s shot because she’s a threat then, because she’s put herself out there, separated herself from the culture she’s supposed to adopt and that makes her vulnerable, yes, but it also makes her a powerful threat.
    At least that’s how I see it. I think its very feminist.
    I disagree that Badu’s video is the same as the others. I think her’s is playing with what was done by others, but her nudity is not for the consumption of others. Its not a show, unlike in the other videos. The people in the background in Badu’s video are faded. They are not the focus and as mentioned, they aren’t really gawking. She is not making eye contact with the camera. She’s focused and seems to be thinking. Its not a staring outward but looking inward. She bares all, steps out from her confinement (and really, with her body language, it seems to me like her clothes are trapping her) and once she is free, she is killed. Not accidentally, because of her own lack of awareness, but intentionally because she is a threat.
    I see a message that says that when we can all be comfortable in our own skins, that when we can all cast off the socio-cultural traps that are around us, we can be free, but we’re also dangerous in that freedom and in danger because of that freedom.

  16. nikki#2
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    “She does not seem to be lascivious or sexual in this video, simply nude.”
    Really? Did we watch the same video? Cause in my universe striping while singing the words,
    “I want u to need me
    Come back come back baby come back
    Come back come back baby come back
    Come back come back baby come back”
    is highly sexual. Just saying.

  17. Kathleen Hagerty
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    The “make the girl dance” video is by far the best of the three.

  18. lucierohan
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t think any woman has control over whether she is objectified”
    THANK YOU!

  19. karenoh
    Posted March 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I almost hope this is a joke. Maybe I’m just a radical pinko liberal, but somehow I think that children will recover from the horrible trauma of seeing a female body.
    Also, what’s with this idea that artists must be criticized for anything subversive they try to do on the grounds that they’re just trying to make a buck or get cheap publicity? Maybe this was a statement she actually wanted to make.
    But she can’t do this, because we live in a world where black women are hypersexualized. She can’t make decisions about how she wants to use her body to inspire a shift in that perception of black femininity because some assholes will take it the wrong way.
    I say more power to Erykah Badu and enough of this patronizing need to mask her statement with our moral “What about the children!” woes.

  20. Tracey T
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    But forcing clothing on someone is okay? It is not “forcing” anything on anyone. No should have a right to dictate to others how they dress (and if they dress at all). If you don’t like it, stay inside but you and no one else is entitled to see only what you want to see when walking around in public.
    Also, this isn’t necessarily sexualizing black women. I think the focus needs to be on given people control of their bodies, not forcing them to try to adhere to stereotypes and preconceived notions of being proper. Forcing someone to behave a certain way in opposistion to a stereotype is the same as trying to force them to live up to one. It takes away their ability to live their life as they would like and forces them to live for others and not themselves.

  21. cattrack2
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    “But she can’t do this, because we live in a world where black women are hypersexualized.”
    She can’t do this because its illegal!
    I’ve always been a big Badu fan but she’s hypersexualizing herself–and a lot of other black women–with a cheap stunt. I don’t want to see people walking around public spaces naked. Oh, but that’s all reee-actiuhhh-nareee.

  22. Vassar3
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely, agreed!

  23. Vassar3
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I just don’t get how she has “hypersexualized” herself? I understood this as an act of both vulnerability and liberation. Come on the children, really? Let’s not forget about the affect of advertising and media on young women? I’m an adult woman who still struggles with the hypersexualized images of women I grew up with. I wish I’d seen a self acutalized woman stripped down past me in a park as a young girl, instead of the emaictaed supermodels and Fly Girls of the late 90′s.

  24. Dawn.
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I personally have no problem with public nudity, and I don’t think any of Badu’s actions in this video “take advantage” of the people in the park. A naked woman isn’t automatically sexual and nudity isn’t always about sex. We have plenty of classical art in fine museums that showcase nude female models in various postures and not one of them is “taking advantage” of the kids who go to museums every day.
    Our society is so sexually repressed (and paradoxically sexually saturated) that we boo, hiss, pant, and cry obscenity at the sight of a naked woman walking down the street for the artistic purposes of a music video. We consume pornography at an astonishing rate yet we can’t handle the idea of any kind of public nudity.
    Additionally, if I had a kid, I would have no problem with them seeing this video. Her breasts and genitalia are blurred out anyway, and the video makes an interesting point about our society. Why not encourage that kind of artistic expression and critical thinking?
    On a side note: in my state public nudity above-the-waist is legal anytime, anywhere. Public nudity below-the-waist I’m pretty sure is a petty misdemeanor or a civic violation. I mean really, millions of Americans commit crimes of a similar severity on a daily basis. Actually, pot possession, public nudity, and prostitution are all $50-$100 fines in my state. That’s not much.

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