Tuning In: Kiely Williams's (not at all) "Spectacular"
On Friday, Kjerstin Johnson forwarded me Vulture's post on the music video for Kiely Williams's "Spectacular." Once a member of the girl group 3LW and The Cheetah Girls, Williams has been working on solo projects since 2008, and first tried to dispense with her Disney-friendly image with 2009's "Make Me a Drink." The instrumental version of "Spectacular" was released in October 2009 and the music video was posted on her Web site back in January. The clip was re-released earlier this month and . . . ugh (the video can be viewed here). Now, I don't want to judge folks' sexual proclivities. But there's that and then there's "Spectacular," which is basically a dance track that extols the sexual prowess of a date rapist. No, no, no.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM). Though it should be in our minds year-round, rape is still a societal evil we must eradicate in order to make the world safer for everyone, including women and girls. Earlier this week, Kelsey Wallace posted a great entry in response to Amanda Hess's recent Washington City Paper piece about the struggle a female Howard University student in procuring a rape kit. Late last month, Hess also wrote about Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" and "Monster." The former is a song about a girl getting drunk at a party and includes a rap from Colby O'Donis about taking advantage of her inebriated state. The latter is something of a follow-up with a clearer understanding that what transpired was rape. While I think the racial politics of having a Puerto Rican American male rapper essentially occupy the role of the rapist are very troubling, I appreciate Gaga's efforts to point out that a pop song about a night out is not always as simple and carefree as it sounds.
Much confusion around rape still resides in ascertaining the definition of consent. Foremost, as Adrienne Brown reminded last month, consent is not defined by the absence of no but of the emphatic presence of yes. If you know people who are survivors, UC-Santa Barbara put together a great list of ways to help them cope.
But what to with "Spectacular"? Apparently, as Nualacabral noted in a recent post, Williams didn't mean for the song to be a date rape anthem. That may not have been her intent, but I question her definition of consent, as the chorus celebrates sexual violence as rough play and the verses document her intoxication and inability to remember her partner's name and if she used protection. I also find her re-hash of rationalizations like "not every song has a greater message to the world," "it does happen," and "don't shoot the messenger" to be tired and irresponsible.
Furthermore, while I don't want to suggest (especially as a white woman) how women of color should and should not comport themselves with regard to their sexualit(ies), I do feel this song endorses the regressive idea of the hypersexualized black woman. As women in hip hop and R&B have ongoing histories with these issues, it would do well for Williams to remember this and think about what images she's perpetuating. In addition to the song's explicit lyrics and the video's lurid images of morning-after nudity, ass-shaking, and black-and-white still images of the night before, I was also disturbed by Williams's walk of shame toward the end of the music video. She flirts with a leering white man who accosts her on the street while still walking with his partner and shoots the bird to two women who appear to be mocking her "slutty" behavior. I believe she's trying to reclaim her sexual freedom in these moments. But if "sexual freedom" means getting drugged and sexually assaulted during a night out, we need a new definition.
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