NOTE: Some of the imagery in this video, which includes shots of a nude woman, may not be for all audiences, so to be safe, this is NSFW. They’re not allowing websites to embed it, so click the image below which will take you to the video at Vimeo.com.
Flaming Lips have a new collaboration album coming out called The Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends (Warner Bros.), where they are joined with a number of different artists, including Ke$ha, Lightning Bolt, and Yoko Ono, but what has gained a lot of attention in the last few days is a video for their collaboration with Erykah Badu, a cover of Robert Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. The song is Badu entering the Flaming Lips’ adventurous musical world, as if her natural and organic self decided to explore their acid and mushroom tinged soundscapes. But there has been a controversy not for the song, but for the video that was directed by Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.
If you have seen the videos Coyne has done in the last 20 years, you’ll know that he can be trippy. In this case, it seems that Badu agreed to do the video with him with a few ideas and expressed between her and Coyne. However, an alleged “rough” version of the video was placed on Pitchfork and Badu was livid about what she saw. She had claimed that she did not approve of this version of the video, even though it was presented as a “raw cut”. Badu accused Coyne of being “self serving”. You can see the views of both Badu and Coyne in an article written at Okayplayer. For a few hours, the video was removed from YouTube and Vimeo, but before it was, it lead to a lot of people discussing it in forums and in social media. It has also lead to countless videos on YouTube where people recorded their first viewing of the video, treating it as if if it was the music video equivalent of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. I initially missed it because I felt I would eventually see the video by the weekend, and when it was removed, I questioned “was it really that bad?”
I knew that what considered controversial was a nude woman that people assumed was Badu herself. Rather, it was Badu’s sister, Nayrok. As for the imagery… well take a look first if you haven’t seen it and then come back here.
Then there’s shots of Nayrok being covered in a white liquid. One might go “oh, yet more objectification of a black woman being fetishized by a white man”. In other words, “a sexual object”. It can be seen that way if you want to see it that way, and with some of this white liquid shown dripping slowly, you could see it as softcore porn, a twisted bukkake shot. Or you could see it in a humorous way and look at the white liquid as sugar frosting, the ingredients for a glazed doughnut. Sounds weird? By the time it reaches this point in the video, coming up with the idea of this representing the doughnut is probably the least weird thing you can visualize. Or if you twist its possible meaning again, you can see the white liquid as something sexual, if not sensual. First kiss, first touch, first smell, first… orgasm? The first time ever I saw your face post coitus? Pre-creation? Post-creation? Procreation?
Is this video controversial because it’s meant to be oppressive? Is it meant to be offensive? Or is it truly noting more than expression through abstract imagery that can mean anything that you want to see in it, but can also mean absolutely nothing. The video is not violent in anyway, but red liquid often brings visions of blood, or at least in a violent society that we tend to think is heavily promoted by news items of the day, we immediately see negativity. It could be positive. Then again, it can mean absolutely nothing.
Perhaps this dispute between Badu and Coyne is complete hype and another means of promotion, nothing more than a way to promote a unique Roberta Flack cover, and the Flaming Lips forthcoming album. There are going to be people who will see this video and go “wow, how can a song so beautiful get treated with a video that is shameful?” But is it really shameful, or shameless? Or is it just images? Beauty is just as mind in the mind of the beholder as is ugliness.
Perhaps this is the end result of what Badu mentioned a few years ago, the idea of “groupthink”. There is indeed other perspectives if you wish to look at other directions or paths, but if you are stuck in believing that this is video has one meaning, you’re going to discard other interpretations? Of course, that’s up for debate too.
I had posted a note to Coyne and Badu on Twitter that I didn’t expect a reply to, but I had basically said that if Badu did indeed object to it, why not have her create her own video, her own interpretation of the song. I ended by saying the video could be called “conflict of vision, unity in sound”, as a way to say that she objected to this edit of the video and the way it was presented, and since this was a collaborative song, one would be able to see her vision of their song.
Nonetheless, you can see it and think for yourself.