If all a woman wants is to get people’s attention—fast—there’s probably no better strategy than her shedding her shirt. In public. Then posting the footage online.
That, in a detail-free nutshell, is the story of “Window Seat,” Erykah Badu’s latest single—with its accompanying video. The song is an R&B ballad about a woman trying to get perspective on a faltering romance by getting on a plane. “I just want a ticket outta town,” Erykah sings. “Can I get a window seat?/Don’t want nobody next to me/I just want a chance to fly/A chance to cry.”
The closest the song comes to anything that could be construed as racy is a reference to the singer’s paramour, with whom apparently she’s had children (“Concentrating on my music, lover and my babies”).
Racy, however, is a terribly tame way to describe the song’s video. On Saturday, March 13, 2010, Erykah and a camera team strolled through Dealey Plaza—the infamous spot of John F. Kennedy’s assassination—in Dallas (Badu’s hometown). As she walked along, she took off her clothes.
All of them.
Then we hear the sound of a gunshot and see the naked singer fall to the ground as if dead. Her assassin? “GROUPTHINK”—a word spelled out in oozing blue blood. Strategic pixelation obscures Badu’s nudity in the video. But those who were actually at the Plaza that day—including children—had no such “courtesy.”
A voiceover at the end of the video speaks to anyone who criticizes an artist’s motives, the so-called agents of “groupthink”: “They play it safe. Are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual. A single person within a circumstance can move one to change, to love our self, to evolve.”
In a lengthy interview with Dallas Morning News contributor Hunter Hauk, Badu tried to rectify her song’s lyrics with its video. “The song ‘Window Seat’ is about liberating yourself from layers and layers of skin or demons that are a hindrance to your growth or freedom, or evolution,” she said. “I wanted to do something that said just that, so I started to think about shedding, nudity, taking things off in a very artful way.”
And she credits a video by the group Matt and Kim, which staged a similar stunt in New York City’s Times Square. “I thought [their video] was the bravest, the most liberating thing I’ve ever seen two people do. And I wanted to dedicate this contagious act of liberation and freedom to them. I hoped it would become something contagious that people would want to do in some way or another.”
Contagious? Like the flu. Liberating? More like “utterly, completely, nauseatingly tasteless,” says Dallas Morning News and beliefnet.com contributor Rod Dreher. “What will she do for her second single off the new album? Go to the balcony where MLK was shot and do the hoochie-koochie in her underwear?”
Says Badu, “Art is supposed to spark dialogue and ring an awakening of some sort, especially if it is impactful and powerful. I didn’t expect to be demonized, but I did expect to spark that sort of dialogue.”
Two other things she probably expected are these: Dallas police issuing her a $500 citation for disorderly conduct. And the hit counter on her website pegging the 2 million mark just days after her video began streaming there.
As for how witnesses, including children, might be affected by the 39-year-old mother and singer’s spontaneous strip tease, Badu admitted, “I didn’t think about them [the children] until I saw them, and in my mind I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That’s all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn’t be traumatized.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.