For the second time since 2010, singer Erykah Badu’s naked body is going viral. Sort of.
On June 1 a shocking video (i.e., NSFW) for Badu’s atmospheric cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” hit the Web. Performed with experimental rock band the Flaming Lips, the psychedelic track stems from this spring’s Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends album.
Directed by Delo Creative, the clip opens in slo-mo: Badu blinking her green eyes, band members strumming bass and barely emoting nonchalance. Badu sings the lines — made famous by Roberta Flack in 1972 — with added echo effects couched in a haunting, ethereal bed of sound. The camera pulls back, showing Badu curled up naked (but not revealed) in an isolated bathtub. Then things take an eccentric turn.
She emerges from the bathtub covered in golden glitter, full breasts on view. Her next time on camera, she spanks her own glittery backside. And in her next few frames, intercut with the Flaming Lips, she dips a hand into the sparkles and slaps them between her legs. Her vulva drips golden glitter. Badu continues, whipping her braids out of the gold in slow motion, pouring sparkles over her head.
Another verse begins with Badu back in the bathtub as before. At this point, surprised viewers might detect that her extensions have disappeared — that, in fact, she never wore any at the beginning of the clip, and the braided woman may not be Badu at all. She isn’t. The body double is Koryan Wright, Badu’s younger sister, who sings under the mirrored alias Nayrok Udab. (The sisters posed together for a Gap ad in 2001.)
For those familiar, the naked intro could reference the rebirth scene of Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 Western, El Topo. Why? Badu mentioned Jodorowsky just four months ago in a public explanation for photos in which the Arabic word for “Allah” was temporarily tattooed on her upper body. (In February Muslims banned Badu from performing in Malaysia because of the pictures.) The photograph was a reinterpretation of an image from Jodorowsky’s 1973 surrealist classic, Holy Mountain.
In the director’s El Topo, when the titular gunfighter gets reborn into the next phase of his life, his hair turns from black to gold. Maybe Badu evokes that. (Regarding birth and rebirth, the singer is also an active assistant midwife, and many home births happen in bathtubs.)