Can I Get a Window Seat?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you have undoubtedly heard about the controversy surrounding Erykah Badu's video for her recently released song, "Window Seat."
If you haven't, don't worry, I'm going to talk about it at length right now.
Before I jump deep into this diatribe I have to mention that I am a huge Badu fan. I traveled down to Nashville to see a Badu show at the famous Ryman Auditorium a few years ago and had one of the most beautiful shared experiences of my life. The music, the people, the fun all touched me on a level that I had not really experienced at a concert in a long time. I fell in love with "Neo-Soul" that day and bought every Badu album I could get my grubby little hands on.
Enough disclosure, on to the randomness!
At the beginning of each month I scrape through the Billboard Top 100, Top 10 Pop and R&B track lists, iTunes "What's Hot" list, poll my friends on Twitter to see what they are listening to and run some of the more popular things through Pandora to create personal listening stations. This is how I go about finding new music these days. The "same 15 songs all day" programming that seems to have permeated much of broadcast FM radio saddens me and is the major reason I do not listen to FM anymore. Some say this drifting from radio into the "best of years" happens to everyone as they get older, but I disagree. Music is an integral part of my life –- there are very few parts of my day that happen without a solid soundtrack running in the background. I enjoy discovering new sounds, artists and expanding my musical tastes. Finding Badu's sound was one of those wonderful expansion trips and my hunger for more discovery has not diminished as I've gotten older but grown as I now have the financial means to attempt to satisfy it.
I heard "Window Seat" long before I saw it. A friend on Twitter direct-messaged me as soon as she heard the track to let me know it was making a run around the internet and that just had to get my hands on it. She was right, and the song was right on time for me. In my grown-up-day-job-having-life I spend much of my day with headphones on and armpit-deep in HTML code and the Adobe Creative Suite, which at times is gloriously fun and at others chaotic and stressing. Badu's "Window Seat" has a laid-back swagger about it –- mellow but grooving, bright but lyrically strong, with moments that anyone can identify with. From lines like, "I need you to want me / Need you to miss me / I need your attention... I need somebody to clap for me... Somebody to say come back" to the chorus "Can I get a window seat / Don't want nobody next to me / I just want a ticket outta town / A look around / And a safe touch down / I just need a chance to fly / A chance to cry / And a long bye bye." Seat is a song that gets under your skin the more you listen to it.
It was love at first listen for me. In my mind I started envisioning what the music video might look like, hoping that the song would be the initial release from Badu's soon-to-be-released new album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh" the images I had of a Parliament Funkadelic party on an airplane and Badu slow motion making her way through an airport heading toward the gate to get on the P-funk "mothership" did not even come remotely close to the video that started a massive brouhaha on the interwebs.
Badu done gone down to Texas and got nekked!
I got a text message that made me do a double take and forced me to walk from my desk to search for some totally NSFW video for my beloved "Window Seat" song. After I watched the video, I hit my friend back with a single word, "OMGWTFBBQ?" Then I watched the video again to take it all in and thought to myself, "the shit-storm should start any minute now." And it did.
In the video, shot using a hand-held camcorder, Badu strolls through Dealey Plaza, the Dallas pedestrian mall where President Kennedy was shot in 1963, slowly shedding her clothes along the way, until she is completely naked and is then shot. I'll say that again the way I heard it through the sub-text I read about the video, "Black woman gets naked and mimics JFK assassination on site of the President's death -- didn't ask permission, get her!"
Here comes my rant.
I think the role music plays in society is to inspire, not necessarily to get laid and die young. Music should inspire thought, deep (and shallow) emotion and conversation which has to be a heavy responsibility to bare as an artist. Something full of meaning should evoke both a positive and negative reaction, but there should be a discussion around these reactions. I am still unclear what is the true focus of controversy around the video, is it the mimicking of the JFK assassination or the black chick spontaneously getting naked in public down in Texas in the middle of the day? Depending on what you read or where you read it, the answer is pretty polarized; it's art in the North and "offensive" in the South.
The video should make you uncomfortable in some way, for sure. When I watched it I felt voyeuristic thinking the entire time, "she's not really going to get naked right?" But then I saw that ass, and that thought quickly went away. At no point did it offend me, nor would it if she had mimicked the assassination of Dr. King. Badu is not the first artist to allude to the JFK assassination in a music video (think "Mosh" by Eminem for instance) and yet the brouhaha kept expanding until Badu was brought up on disorderly conduct charges.
Is the video in "poor taste?" That's subjective, and you should watch it and make up your own mind. I personally don't believe it is, but you definitely got my attention Ms. Badu, and I'll applaud you for it any day.