Twenty years ago, a laid-back Michigan girl by the name of Adina Howard burst on the scene with one of the most straight-forward declarations of female sexuality to ever be heard on wax. “Let me lay it on the line. I got a freakiness inside,” Howard once sang on her 1995 hit record, “Freak Like Me.” The seasoned entertainer, cook and wife is now laying it all on the line in a new documentary, Adina Howard 20: A Story of Sexual Liberation. We spoke with Howard about her new upcoming film and navigating autonomy in a world and industry where objectification is lucrative and Black female sexuality, demonized and celebrated all at once.
EBONY: You went from a shy girl being forced to sing for company by your mother to a sex symbol. How did you become so liberated to fully express yourself through your music and image?
Adina Howard: I just wanted to do me and be me. I didn’t care about other people’s perception of me. I’m one of those people that at the end of the day, no matter what you do people may or may not like you. Just be true to yourself, do right by other people and keep moving.
EBONY: You were making hits in the 90’s, then you went away for a while, went to school for culinary arts, got married and now you have an upcoming documentary. Why now?
AH: A gentleman by the name of Gezus Zaire has been following my career for a while and he wanted to document my journey. “A Freak Like Me” turned 20 on January 25. So he felt it would be a great idea to release it around that time to celebrate the 20th anniversary. This is his idea. I don’t find myself to be that interesting.
EBONY: With the 20th anniversary, that’s the perfect time to do it.
AH: You’re right. It definitely is. It’s so amazing to me that 20 years has gone by so quickly. Two decades have gone by and it’s like where was I. Even though I was the one who initiated the song, I wasn’t really present. I was so focused on doing my job, that so many things have passed by me.
EBONY: Looking back, is there anything that you would have like to change or have done differently?
AH: Yes! There are so many things that I would do differently. I would have paid a lot more attention to my business and I would be a lot more humble. I would have opened my eyes and ears and shut my mouth a lot more. There’s so many things I would have done differently, but at the end of the day, I don’t dwell on it because what happened, happened and it got me to this point.
EBONY: What’s your outlook on today’s R&B?
AH: There’s not enough of it. There’s not as much variety as it was back in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s so watered down and just reduced to a handful of entertainers when there are so many talented people out there. The business has changed where they’re focused on the money makers and not the potential of money that could be made, if they would broaden their perspective. They just want to drain the Beyonces, Rihannas, Lady GaGas and the Selena Gomezs. There’s so much room. There’s so many beautiful voices out there and it’s so sad that we’re being deprived due to greed.
EBONY: Are there any artists today that you like?
AH: Oh my God, I love so many people! There’s so much good music out here. I’m always on my Google Play store. Bruno Mars. There’s a young lady by the name of Snow Allegra. She has a song called “Paradise” that I’m in love with. Chrisette Michelle. I love me some Amy Winehouse. Jessie J and Colbie Caillat. I don’t just listen to R&B, I listen to everything.
EBONY: There’s been a lot of conversation around Beyonce being a self-proclaimed feminist and singing about desiring and pleasing her husband and expressing herself as a sexual being. Do you consider yourself a feminist or a womanist? And as a sexually liberated married woman how do you find balance in adhering to your own desires and pleasing your husband?
AH: Not necessarily. I don’t like titles and boxes. I believe what I believe. I don’t even focus on that because I don’t know that it’s necessary. I stand by my actions and my words, but I don’t know. I don’t care. People will see me as a feminist, but I don’t really focus on it. I just live my life. Everyone should have the right to express them self however she chooses, without having to be labeled something. It’s all about compromise and timing. I married someone who is a working man. He’s not in the industry. When he comes home from work, after working 10 long hours, I know what it is for the most part that he needs and or wants. And sometimes that’s just a hot meal. It’s not even about sex. For us, it’s different. I’m not Beyonce and he’s not Jay Z. So we don’t have that dynamic as to we can fly all over the world. He’s a 9-to-5 brotha. Everyone just has to function within the parameter of their marriage.
EBONY: In the documentary you mention that, “We’re [women] only sensual and sexy when men want us to be.” The male gaze is always going to exist. How do you feel women can navigate self expression sexually without crossing over to objectification?
AH: Women and people in general have to do what they’re comfortable with. At any point, if you’re doing something that you don’t necessarily want to do or you’re being forced to do it, that’s objectification. If you’re not doing it because that makes you feel good or it’s liberating to you then that’s a problem. Do it because you feel good doing it, you feel liberated doing it and you don’t care what everybody thinks or says.
So many women right now are seeking attention and they are objectifying themselves because of that. When I did it, I wasn’t seeking attention. It was just who I was at the time and how I felt comfortable being. I didn’t have to deal with a whole lot of drama. Of course, you have a lot of ignorant ones, who feel like it doesn’t really matter who the woman is, that they can have their way with that woman. You always have those kind of individuals, but for the most part if you put yourself out there and you have the mindset that you’re doing you with no apologies and in a manner that’s not going to hurt or harm anyone, you can’t go wrong.
EBONY: When you have a Black woman like Nicki Minaj celebrating big butts (“Anaconda”), it’s a problem, but when Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea (“Booty”) do it, it’s applauded. How do you feel we as Black women can continue to create and celebrate ourselves without worrying about being policed and demonized?
AH: I think that we as women of color and specifically sistas have to do it differently. When you look at hip-hop videos, that’s the image that they’re so used to seeing of us. It’s to the point, where they’re like "Can y’all do something different" and I get it. When you look at the Jennifer Lopezs, the Iggy Azaleas and the Latinas, they’re not usually doing that. When we do it as women of color on this side of the spectrum, "It’s like here they go again." When are we going to do something different? A lot different? To the point where we can still be sexy, but not just putting booty all in the face. We’ve been doing that since 1995 and that started with me. I put my ass in your face on the first album cover and it just went bananas. So that’s now all that we’re doing. It’s not to just keep it going. What else can we do? There are other ways to show sexy. I don’t think we’ve grasped that yet. Until we redefine what that is for our community, I think that backlash is going to always be there. It’s so expected.
I think Nicki Minaj is a beautiful young lady, but when I saw the “Anaconda” video, I was like "Okay, great. Nice ass, but what are you doing different?" I don’t think she needed to go there, but I get it. That’s one of her most successful assets.
EBONY: Can we expect any new music from you?
AH: New music is coming. We have something in the works right now. Hopefully, it’ll be here sooner than later. I think you all will be very pleased and pleasantly surprised with the unexpected.
Adina Howard 20: A Story of Sexual Liberation premieres online at AllHipHop.com and ColourfulRadio.com on May 6.
Glennisha Morgan is a Detroit-bred multimedia journalist, writer, photographer and filmmaker. She writes about intersectionality, hip-hop and the women in it, pop culture, queer issues, race, feminism and her truth. Follow her on Twitter @GlennishaMorgan or at www.GlennishaMorgan.com.