The Audacity of Erykah Badu.

If it's the task of an artist to be confrontational, Ms. Badu has succeeded.

Because by this time next week the world will have moved on from the Erykah Badu controversy, let me say a little sumpthin’ sumpthin about Ms. Badu’s striptease in Dealy Plaza, where John F. Kennedy bought it 47 years ago.

Let me make it clear from the jump that I am not a prude, puritan or someone with a hang-up about nudity.   I’ve already been beat up on the social networks, so I’ve heard it all already.  There’s nothing new anyone can tell me about it.

If you’re  a fan of Ms. Badu good for you, but there is nothing remotely artistic about getting naked in front of families with kids.

An artist’s right to express their art does not trump community standards of decency.

It’s not art. It’s crass commerce. She’s got a new album out and now she has people talking about her.

Andres Serrano took a leak in a jar, dropped a crucifix in it, snapped a photo of it, dubbed it “Piss Christ” and drove Jesse Helms nuts.

Pushing the envelope? Confronting and challenging society’s mores? Artistic expression?

Sure. But there are limits to pushing, confronting, challenging and expression. All of those things can be done in public with your clothes on and without deciding for yourself what kids should or should not see.

Badu gets a ton of free publicity for pulling pretty much the same stunt British nu-soul singer Lisa Stansfield pulled years ago in her video of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” (which was a better song than “Window Seat,” but I digress.   Maybe Badu and the video directors aren’t familiar with Stansfield’s video but it does prove there’s no new ideas.

It is said amateurs borrow and professionals steal. So which one is Erykah Badu?

About the only thing that didn’t work according to plan was Badu’s hopes that she would be arrested on the spot (the video director brought the bail money since Badu didn’t have any pockets).

Because if she got arrested, the publicity machine is only goosed by a thousandfold. I can see the news crews showing some big, burly cop making a nude Black woman/hip-hop star doing a perp walk with her pixellated T&A hangin’ out.

Yeah, I could see Erykah working here. This is cool, but where’s the po-po? I’m missing a chance to be all over cable and Entertainment Tonight being interviewed over how I suffered for my art.

Art? What a poor abused word.  When nothing can be judged lest one be dubbed a knuckled-dragging slob anything can be called “art”

By that extremely loose standard any lounge singer torturing the Great American Songbook in a half-empty bar on Friday night can claim they’re an “artist.” Those poor bastards who get bounced from American Idol can walk away muttering, “Philistines. You can’t recognize true artistry when you’re in the presence of it.”

Like “genius,” the word “artist” is applied far too casually to people who are undeserving of the title. There’s a difference between popularity and artistry and we need to recognize the difference.

Going naked doesn't make it art.

Miley Cyrus is a musician who is trying to become a serious actress. Being the pop tart flavor of the month doesn’t make her any kind of “artist.” She’s only a pop star with ambitions. Perhaps when she’s done something worthy of being included in the same company of a Meryl Streep it won’t sound utterly ridiculous to even mention them in the same breath.

Back in Dallas, where Badu lives and Kennedy died,  Destiny DeLaRosa, a local columnist poked a few holes in the “art’s for art’s sake” argument.

We as a society have become so desensitized to absolutely everything that shocking the masses is one of simplest ways to get our attention. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” So in a sense we have forced the modern-day artesian to express the same tired, old concepts in new and provocative ways. Unfortunately, rather than earning their titles as creative free thinkers, many instead choose to take the easiest, most effortless route: attention-grabbing antics, which in my opinion give true art a bad name.

True art evokes emotion, passion and change. Lazy, attention-driven art promotes sales. And sadly, because of that fact, sellouts will subsequently be made out of some of today’s most talented artists.

As for Erykah Badu, what’s so brave or avant-garde about walking around and getting naked to the shock and awe of the rubes? For five bucks and a bottle of Boone’s Farm, I could go downtown and find a homeless bag lady to do the same thing.

7 thoughts on “The Audacity of Erykah Badu.

  1. I’ve gotta agree with pretty much everything you’ve said, including the general idea that “An artist’s right to express their art does not trump community standards of decency.” However, the visionary in me wonders if we will ever evolve into a society where we can one day shed the cloak of shame around the natural human form and just walk around with it all hanging out — kids, grandmas, daddies, the beautiful and the not-so-very.


    • Societal mores being what they are where it’s legal for two men to step into a ring and beat each other until they’re bloody, but it’s a crime for a woman to please a man in exchange for money, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the world to progress to the point where some nude bodies are applauded and others scorn. When it does, just like healthcare, America wil be behind the pack, not leading it.


  2. Well, Jeff, you’ve pretty much forced me to do a 180. I was planning to write a column about Badu’s video extolling it as brave, though short-sighted. You’ve convinced me that it is hackery. Thanks for the straight-talking, incisive critique. It is funny as it is relevant. Congratulations.


  3. I’m afraid i don’t see what the big deal is. She got neekid and got attention for it. Bully for her. I’m not a fan of her’s, but it’s a pretty good song.


  4. I dig her sound, but getting is an art of which I don’t think of her for.

    Now….back to the artist known as Del Rio…..[lovin’ it]


  5. Amendation:

    I dig her sound, but getting NAKED is an art of which I don’t think much of her for.

    Now….back to the artist known as Del Rio…..[lovin’ it]

    There you go…that’s a little better.


  6. Well said. Although are changing their minds after reading reflective writings like yours, I had issues with the web from the moment I heard about it. I certainly understand what she was trying to say but she crossed the line when she disrobed in public, in front of unsuspecting peopel, including chidlren. Way out of line.


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