Erykah Badu has stirred up a little controversy on the eve of the release of her new album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh). In the video for her new single "Window Seat," which hit the web on Saturday, the Texas soul-funk-jazz sista slowly strips off her clothes after parking her 1965 Lincoln Continental car in Dallas' Dealey Plaza until she winds up butt naked at the spot where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Badu, too, goes down after the sound of a gunshot, with the word "EVOLVING" written on her back and "GROUPTHINK" scrawled on the ground, in what's meant to be her blood.
Badu gives inspiritional credit to indie-pop duo Matt & Kim who shed their clothes in Times Square in their "Lessons Learned" video last year. (Watch that here.) Badu's been on Twitter quite a bit since the video went up - it's been taken off of YouTube, but you can watch it on her own site here. The mother of three joked "was holding belly in, trust" and wrote "funny thing is , the physical nudity is nothing lol . i been naked all along in my words actions and deeds . thats the real vulnerable place."
In an interview published Monday on the web site of her hometown paper, the Dallas Morning News, Badu explained the intended symbolism she had in mind in portraying herself as being assassinated by "Groupthink," a psychological concept developed by former Yale University professor Irving Janis about the inherent pitfalls of making collective decisions. She's attempting to use the Web to critique a phenomenon that's all too common on the Web: People forming what they believe to be their own opinions by adopting the opinions of others that seem to have been formed by group consensus. (Read Jaron Lanier's You Are Not A Gadget for more on this topic.)
In the Dallas paper, Badu told Hunter Hauk: "It was a protest to awaken a term called “groupthink.” It’s a term that was coined in 1952. It’s the recognition of a state of being for humans. It’s human nature for a person to be afraid to express his or her self in fear of being ostracized by the group or general consensus. A lot of times people are judged unfairly because of that. I think about the Salem witch trials; I think about the assassination of Christ, I think about the character assassination of artists and celebrities on blog sites. I think about all of these things as groupthink. And when I fall to the ground in the video, the word groupthink spills out of my head, because I was assassinated by groupthink."
She went on to say that "When I told my mother what I wanted to do, she was not 100 percent confident that it was the right thing, but she was supportive. I shared it with my family and made sure I told them that this act is not in any way a reflection of who they all are. It’s who I am. They said I had their support. I have young children whom I was considerate of and I told them what I was doing. My 5-year-old said, “OK, Mommy, can I have some more pudding?” My 12-year-old said, “It’s all right because I can explain to everyone that my mother is a wonderful person and she’s just having fun.” After hearing that, I took myself a lot less seriously."
And she added that on the day of the shoot, she saw children as she was walking naked through Dealey Plaza, but "I didn’t think about them 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."
Dallas police, predictably, seem to not be amused, as the video, which Badu says was shot "guerilla style" in one long take, was shot without a permit.
In the unlikely event that you want to see Badu perform the slowly unwinding funk jam fully-clothed, her "Window Seat" performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with the Roots, that's below. Philadelphia's James Poyser, the band's keyboard player, produced the track.
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