Erykah Badu, Wayne Coyne and Their Greek Chorus

baduayne.jpg
Badu and Coyne on the set, via Coyne's Twitter
See also: Wayne Coyne talks about how he asked Erykah Badu to collaborate.

See also: The new Erykah Badu/Flaming Lips Video (is very, very NSFW).

As the dramatic tension of the Erykah Badu/Wayne Coyne Twitter "feud" escalated last night, I started thinking about the question of collaboration and consent. When I spoke with Coyne just last Wednesday - the day he tweeted those nude photos from the set of the video for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (which has now been removed from most sites), he mentioned it would be out on Friday. He was pleasant and charming in conversation, but I did comment that his social media presence was almost voyeuristic. His reply:

"I'm doing it for our fans. They've given me this life. Our fans are musicians and artists. Seeing people do things is inspiring. Back in 1983, at the Black Flag show, we watched them unload, play, we talked to them, then they loaded up. It wasn't seeing them play. It was: How would they do it? So [Twitter] is just me saying: Here's what I'm doing. It's a relief to artists sometimes, that you can change your mind in the middle of a process. Have ideas, but ideas are thing in your mind. It's what you do with them that matters."

But this isn't Coyne tweeting naked photos of his wife or psychedelic vinyl, it's him telling a fellow artist, calm down, you're overreacting. I believe psychologists call it gaslighting. Some said that because she'd been naked in "Window Seat" that it shouldn't be a big deal. Some called Coyne out as a misogynist. Others winked and said they got the joke - this gaslighting was a genius marketing ploy. But, it's what you do with ideas that matters. So how should we feel about a naked woman in a bathtub full of glitter, blood and "semen"? Titillated? Disgusted? Would we be having the same feelings if it was Coyne fully naked? Which brought me to Badu's long response to Coyne earlier this week:

"When asked what the concept meant after u explained it, u replied, 'it doesn't mean anything, I just want to make a great video that everyone is going to watch.' I understood, because as an artist we all desire that. But we don't all do it at another artist's expense, I attempted to resolve this respectfully by having conversations with u after the release but that too proved to be a poor excuse for art."

Badu has transformed her art. Each album, each project, each phase of her career has been a shade different than the one before. She's constantly changing with each tide, and after a 15-year career, right up to her current work with the Cannabinoids, she's managed to stay in control of her image and be creative on her terms.

So have the Flaming Lips, but have you been to a show recently? Or in the last five years? Their shtick has been the same. Sure, it's entertaining; it's an epic live show, one that is completely distracting and engulfing in a good way. Their shows satisfy our desire for spectacle, and in a way, this feud is an extension of that.

What about the song in the video? This was the reason Coyne talked Badu into collaborating in the first place, and I had high hopes, because it's the most interesting thing the Lips have done in about a decade. But the resulting product, much like the video, seems half-baked. It feels like a waste of opportunity. Perhaps once we all calm down, a finished product will emerge that changes the discussion.

Badu had a very measured discussion earlier this week, asking her followers what they thought of the video, how it made them feel. One question stuck with me: What if it meant nothing?

Let's look beyond the are-they-or-aren't-they nature of the matter. These two are artists, yes, and they are performers. And while this whole flame war has certainly made us take the bait whether we wanted to or not, more importantly, it's created discourse about the art itself. We're the Greek chorus, chiming in on the action, and discussing this video in a completely different way because something subversive happened. We're living in an era when we can talk directly to the artists we admire, and possibly change the direction of the conversation.

Badu, back on June 3, wrote this, and it seems to pinpoint what's at the heart of the issue:

"The object of art is to invoke inspiration and create dialogue. To stimulate. Sometimes it can arouse hidden or upfront fears."


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10 comments
Terrence Cain
Terrence Cain

I wouldn't say his band is stale. They're still great, but this song and video definitely do not an art make. And again, both parties have a hand in this. Badu could have backed out and not done the video, but she did it anyway and with her sister as well. It just smells like publicity  to me because they both knew a video like this would never get played on MTV, Fuse, BET, or hell even YouTube or Hulu without someone filing a formal complaint about its subject matter. I'm not defending anyone on this, I say both are to blame. Coyne for taking advantage of Badu, and Badu for letting it happen the way it did without some kind of say.

Terrence Cain
Terrence Cain

You don't know what you're even talking about. Badu is on the song singing, so she does get a cut of any sales on the song. And she did complain about the content because she called it pornography. It's not a predetermined idea when praise then slam because the video wasn't done the way you wanted it when someone else was making it. She could have said no to the idea, but allowed someone to supposedly take advantage of her and her sister. I happen to agree with her on the pornographic aspect and that it was just a video made purely of titillation for the masses to react to. It's one's ego being bruised by another's and everything going on Twitter was totally immature on both people's parts.

Darrell
Darrell

If you look at Erykah's Twitter timeline, as well as her sister's, you'll see that they both asked for viewer reactions to the video, and her sister even retweeted a link to the version of the video that we all saw.  Then, days later, they were supposedly upset.  Seems like a case of buyer's remorse to me.  If Erykah never saw the video, as she claimed in her letter/Twitter rant against Wayne, how or why would she ask people to tell her what the video made them feel?

PFKaP
PFKaP

 Nonsense. Badu isnt trying to promote any records. Wayne is. And she isnt complaining about the content of the video, her complaint is the way in which the imagery was conveyed. Perhaps next time you should apprise yourself of the actual situation instead of applying your own pre determined ideas to it.

PFKaP
PFKaP

Wayne is experiencing the waning of his career. His band is stale. He sought controversy and found it. It's shock as a desperate plea for relevance. Badu is a talented woman n has no need to rely on this sort of 'beef' for publicity.

Terrence Cain
Terrence Cain

As I told Ms. Badu earlier this week on Twitter, she's as much to blame for what went down as Wayne Coyne is. She could have said no to what Wayne wanted and asked for something different or total removal from the video but she didn't. Instead she claims she put her sister in the video for all the "rawer" parts and accepted what was going down. Now she comes out complaining and saying that she was exploited. I'm sorry, Ms. Badu, but I call bullshit  on this and say that you're just creating a farce to get more attention. You're doing this battle, like they do in Hip Hop, to stir up more record sales and video hits so that you stay relevant in the music world; which is really dumb because everyone knows that your music by its self is amazing and thought provoking without having to stoop to the level of feuding over something you agreed to do. It's time to grow up and move on. The song sucks (it really is a horrible cover) and the video is just a disgusting pile of trash that will eventually go away provided you put away the fight and move on. Okay, I've said my final piece on this.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall

Tempest in a teapot (American English), or tempest in a teacup (British English), is an idiom meaning a small event that has been exaggerated out of proportion.

Sceamer
Sceamer

Wayne Coyne tweeted to her that she is brilliant about the feud because it increased the plays by 100,000

Steve
Steve

If you truly believe she is pissed, you need to watch this one show on Monday nights.   It's run by Vince McMahon.

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