WITHIN HOURS OF her video debuting on March 27, 2010 at 3:33a.m. on her website erykahbadu.com, the trending searches online contained the words “Erykah,” “ Badu,” “Window Seat,” “Naked” and “Uncensored.”
The naked body is a work of art. It’s also (depending on what continent you are standing on) the crux of great conflict. In Western culture, we’ve been taught to view any form of the naked physique as sexually suggestive. If a woman is naked, it’s to instigate a sexual activity. When Erykah Badu walked naked for 13 seconds (when the video was shot, she had the full song sped up to one minute and 32 seconds, then slowed back down in editing), it was for her art and not sexual consumption. It’s a stance she feels contributed to the outrage. “We’re just not fashioned for [nudity],” says Badu. “Especially the Black women, the ‘Hottentot Venus’ women, big-booty women, the large posterior, with no shoes on and a scarf on her head, you know that ain’t sexy.”
“I think that if I was involved I might have talked her out of it,” says former Badu executive producer and label head Kedar Massenburg, who understands people’s issue with the singer’s artistic nudity. “I think there is something scary about showing your body in public. That’s your haven. I won’t knock her for doing what she’s doing, but I would have been more cautious. She’s already gone far. If that’s the limit, she can only come back now.”
Throughout history, women have been depicted in great works of art. There’s the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Virgin Mary and even the Statue of Liberty. One thing they had in common: They were all the vision of perfection through the eyes of a man. “Society has a problem with female nudity when it is not . . . ”—Badu pauses to get her words together; she wants this point to be very clear—“. . . when it is not packaged for the consumption of male entertainment. Then it becomes confusing.”
"People are uncomfortable with sexuality that’s not for male consumption." - Erykah Badu
You deal with your insecurities very publicly in your music and that is probably why it is interesting to see you showing your body. How did you get to the point where you thought, this is for my art, this isn’t about Erykah’s body.
I thought about the cellulite and the three babies down the rope sucked bosom. It was scary; I was petrified, because I hadn’t really mastered that part of myself, clearly. That part of fearlessness, and I guess when you ask me about fear, I mean, if you walking down the street butt naked, it is kinda like . . . I don’t care who you are, when we look in the mirror, we don’t see the same thing that we see in magazines or on videos and the airbrushed perfection, straight out of the doctor’s office. We don’t see that. It makes you feel like there is something wrong. While I was doing it, I felt like, ”This one is for all the chicks that feel like it’s something wrong.” Guess what the irony of that is? People were like, “Who she think she is walking down the street naked?”
If you had on a Victoria’s Secret bra on or high heels...
I thought about that too. I wanted to make sure that nothing would be misunderstood, because I do know that a lot of people misunderstand a lot of things purposely.
You think it was on purpose?
Of course it was. We were all speaking English. I did a poem at the end that explained exactly what I did but that’s not news; that you are trying to expose a philosophical, sociological norm, they don’t want to talk about that, that’s not interesting. What’s interesting is that “Oooh, she’s naked.” What’s funny is that everything I wrote on Twitter, was the headline. If I hadn’t said what I said, there wouldn’t have been nothing written. They couldn’t even think of that. I remember thinking Twitter’s so great to me, because it’s like a little mini therapy, you know. You just kind of saying what you feel. Like, “Ooh, tomatoes are hot today,” or in my case, “I just finished walking down the street naked, and I feel liberated.”
Your lyrics aren’t, “Ooh, baby come to my bed.” Since you’ve never projected that, it’s jarring to see you get naked.
To me it’s like traditional performance art like Yoko Ono, or Nina Simone. Research some of those women. They all seem to live by the same theme: Well-behaved women rarely make history. Even looking at people like Harriet Tubman and those types of women. When you have strong convictions about something you know what you already gonna do. I look at some other videos. I’m not naming names, because I don’t want that to be mentioned. There is the thing with sexuality. I’m naked for 13 seconds, and these people are naked the whole time and gyrating and saying come “lick on my lollipop,” and “suck on my cinnamon roll,” and, you know, suggesting sex. People are uncomfortable with sexuality that’s not for male consumption. Could be ‘cause I did it in public too. Do you think people would have been complaining if I had on high-heel shoes?