But he still misses the mark. This week, I’m borrowing from one of my favorite gender studies lectures this year.
Early last semester my pop culture prof had us watch rapper Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” music video, one of his singles from the album Food & Liquor II which managed to stir up quite a bit of controversy with its highly political content. I’m sort of at a loss in regards to how I feel about Lupe because I like him and admire the fact that he’s using his music as a means to spread important messages and voice his opinions, but at the same time I don’t always agree with what he’s saying. This music video is a clear example of the reasons why I simultaneously love and hate him, especially considering the lyrical content. Watch below (and sorry for the unavoidable 30 second commercial near the beginning. Another reason to dislike his cheap ass):
Things I like about the video:
- The theatre setting. This is an effective critique of the ways in which the media dramatizes women’s sexuality and in comparison the “bad bitch”; these kinds of women are essentially coverups and plays on women, not the real thing.
- Duplicating the same child sitting in the audience. The little boy in the first verse is sitting there watching the car “driving” in a stationary position and is taking in the whole scene. This image works to maintain him as the average growing boy who is ingesting these pre-made conceptions about the way the world works, and the image of the little girl watching the rap video in the 2nd verse conversely allows for the internalization of what a “bad bitch” is for women as they grow up.
- The anonymous white man counting money and smoking a cigar in the stairwell of the building while the characters are putting on their costumes in the dressing rooms. We see the white man making money off of black people dressing in stereotypical fashion…peep the black guy putting grills in his mouth and holding a gun, in a way having to act inauthentically to confirm preconceived notions about his race. This definitely illustrates the existing power relations between white and black men as well as works to signify the smoke and mirrors behind the theatre scene. Race is a performance in this video, not a self-evident truth, and one race dominates the other in this case.
- The “sugar water” sponsor. In the second verse we see a stereotypical, yet all too familiar, depiction of a hip hop video with a rapper holding money, standing in front of a nice car, watching an attractive woman dance in skimpy clothes for his sole pleasure. While this scene may be enough to prove a point about the replication of mindless music videos, the sugar water energy drink sends a really powerful message about selling yourself. Lupe is trying to insinuate that we all have our price, and far too often we endorse the wrong kinds of products and media simply because it looks good or enables us financial stability. After the end of the second verse we see the actors once again changing costumes, and the persona of the rap superstar and mistress are dismissed.
- The portrayal of blackface. I have to commend Lupe for this one because he discusses an event of historical importance and relates it to what is happening in modern day times as far as how media is manufactured. Rap music used to be a powerful form of resistance to an oppressive mainstream culture, and now we see alot of music videos that confirm these mainstream fears and depictions of black culture without even the intervention of white regimes of power. Lupe reinvisions the use of blackface–once a practice used in theatre to portray an exaggerated caricature of black people–to its modern day conception in art forms that were once used to revolt.
Things I don’t like about this video:
- The lyrics don’t always fit the imagery. For instance, the song’s content focuses on the ways in which women are misrepresented in the media and consequently degrade themselves, and then inform general perceptions about women’s sexuality. The video provides three separate examples of the ways in which these perceptions develop, pointing mainly to the ways in which children grow up and develop beliefs based on what they are exposed to, but then the video is also loaded with symbols of racial power relations and in a sense reanimates a forgotten history of the abuse of blackface that is never discussed the song. I feel like the video centers so much on the illusion of certain kinds of social ideals and media deception that he should have talked about it a bit more in the song versus simply focusing on the problematic aspects of gender relations.
- The lyrics suggest that it is women’s fault for perpetuating a negative stigma of themselves. The lyrics and the video kind of still reinforce masculine privilege, especially the third verse. I particularly hate the lyrics “you see the fruit of the confusion//he’s caught in a reality, she’s caught in an illusion//bad mean good to her, she’s really nice and smart//but bad means bad to him, bitch don’t play a part//but bitch is still bad to her if you say it in the wrong way//but she thinks she’s a bitch, what a double entendre”. You can take good and bad from this. I kind of get a little heated I guess because I will refer to myself as a “bad bitch” in the sense that I’m taking the word back. If I get a good grade and I’m proud of myself, then I’m a “bad bitch”, because I have done something for myself that not many people can do, so in that sense I’m bad. The word bitch is neutralized. I know that it’s not always the case for everyone and that there are some women who internalize this title sexually and disrespect themselves in the process, but I think it’s wrong of Lupe to try to designate it as meaning only one thing and that women should be the ones to stop using it first. Everyone plays a part in perpetuating sexism, not just women.
- While Lupe makes fun of the idea of sponsors like “sugar water energy drink”, he also clearly has Monster headphones as a sponsor for real. This is just hypocritical. I hate how he is so against sponsors and wanting us to investigate which brands we are supporting but in the same vein has an obvious sponsor himself. Don’t sell out Lupe, especially after all the lessons you have tried to teach us with this video.
Ultimately I like that Lupe Fiasco creates these kinds of controversies and enables these types of discussions. Whether or not I agree with everything he’s saying at least it is getting people to really look at the world of media and deconstruct the histories and oppressive schemes which are still reanimating within everything we come to consume. Til next time.