When I first watched the video I didn’t love or hate it. I accidentally happened upon it and what stayed with me wasn’t Badu’s nudity but her words at the end which I haven’t been able to find but I think are “we are quick to assassinate what we don’t understand—the individual”. I have been thinking about this for days. In then this debate has happened. It’s interesting that people seem to be debating the idea of nudity or whether it was a publicity stunt but never seem to try to understand the message of the image and song. This debate pushed me to look closer at the rest of the video including the lyrics of the song were saying in total. Here is what I think:
Both the song and the video are about the relationship between freedom and the choices we make as members of a society or community. By making that choice we give up a certain amount of freedom. In the song she is talking about being free from her life and her role as a mother for a period of time “concentrating on my music, lover, and my babies/makes me wanna ask the lady for a ticket outta town…” I know that I have felt this same desire…to abandon my responsibilities, my new self, just to be alone. Not because I don’t care but just need to be alone and in solitary thought. I think this is why she repeats “so can I get a window seat don’t want nobody next to me.” She wants, I want to think about my life today and capture something that I lost from the past but without being too involved in today—just for a moment. I think that is why this song uses the same or very similar music from her earlier work.
The act of stripping in the short isn’t about sex or even selling records as some have suggested. I don’t think the music industry’s obsession with sex is central to the meaning of this act at all. Stripping in the middle of strangers is about letting go of fear and being ok with who you are completely. It is also about stripping one’s self of responsibilities and obligations to others. She is stepping outside of other’s expectations, needs demands, societal standards. She isn’t focused on that; she if focused on being free of this feeling of repression that she has agreed to accept and that society has forced upon her. In the end, she is punished for this act in the same way she would be punished or looked down on if she abandoned her family even if for a little while. Remember one of the refrains “I just want a chance to fly/ a chance to cry/ and a long bye bye..” She wants a chance to mourn what she lost, love who she has become and figure out what that all means without being compounded with the needs and desires of her family, career and community. Many of us have experienced this and maybe this is even harder for the artist. We are used to having that time alone and ability to be free. But age and children and our own need to belong to community, a neighborhood, and a family can cage us in.
I didn’t get this interpretation at first. Like I stated earlier I just kept thinking about her statement at the end and the idea of evolving. I didn’t even know what she was really singing about at first; it begin to click after watching the Matt and Kim video. When Kim finally stripped down I found myself weeping. And I wondered why. And I think it is this--as a woman living in this “free” society I don’t feel like we are allowed to fully own our bodies especially in public places like Times Square, Dallas, on tv… And as mothers this is even truer still; we can become simply caregivers. We can cease to exist for our own needs, desires and exist solely for the benefit of others. Figuring out how to be an individual and committed to family and define that in a way that celebrates our uniqueness and womanity--is challenging. We are confined by society to certain rules.
I totally connected to the feelings all three artists—Badu, Matt and Kim seem to be expressing—the desire to be free of repression whether it is self-imposed, those society has imposed, and those we have agreed to accept. A momentary freedom would be great—“Thinking about tomorrow won’t change how I feel today” (Matt and Kim)… I wanted “a window seat outta town” this year too. I almost had a complete break and was about to quit my job and all. I was tired of being needed; yet wanted to be needed. We limit ourselves and others; the trappings of family, responsibility and obligation stop you from being completely free. Yet you want it but don’t go after it because you love and need your family, responsibility etc. But having a break, being an observer for a moment, would be great. I was also struck by the fact that Badu is a black woman stripping down in a society where we haven’t been allowed to be vulnerable. The weight of it is there. I don’t know; I’m still thinking about all of this and thus she succeeds…for me because I’m still thinking about it.
A Cruel, False Promise on Coal
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