You know, you can be woke to the point of paralysis? There is a space where your enlightenment can render you incapable of enjoying art. The first time I saw Kanye West's Fade featuring Teyana Taylor, I was mesmerised, truly transfixed by her athleticism and musicality. I was awestruck by her ability to almost inhabit the music, become the sound using her form to translate the inarticulable- how your body wishes it could move to that song... but can't because you're not Teyana Taylor. *weep*
I knew I wanted to write about the video and its impact because I have long followed Miss Taylor's career and this was her moment. As I started to think about the Eli Linnetz directed short I quickly discovered how easy it is to analyse art to death. I could critically think myself into a state of offence and outrage because "black women's bodies are only acceptable when we're almost nude" and other valid arguments that work to shatter my earlier joy. And after a summer where black women's bodies have endured injustice after criticism lobbied against them, I wanted something quick to enjoy and celebrate.
Upon thinking deeply about who the concept creator is (Kanye West) I don't believe Fade is about fetishisation of the black female body, even when Taylor and her soon to be husband, Iman Shumpert, get to the shower. Kanye West is good at visually expressing his vision of women's bodies. He has done so in the past and continues to do so with his own wife's body to this day. He is unapologetic in capturing his male gaze and sharing it. The difference with Fade is Teyana Taylor's body is active as opposed to having the gaze applied to her passive, gratuitously nude form. Her body is living, moving, animated art within art. The choreography incorporated Dancehall, Hip Hop, Popping, West Africa (with moves specifically from Senegal) and Contemporary. The carefully thought out and intricately assembled dance section was a collaborative effort between dance legend Jae Blaze, Fonzworth Bentley and Guapo. This is the opening act to a three act story about a woman. The first act is about the woman's agency and autonomy over her body, the third is about her control over the sexual acts she receives and gives and third about her decision over the family she has chosen to mother.
Inspired by Flashdance, far from demoralisation, Fade's first act is ultimately about being lost in the music. Teyana Taylor masterfully pays homage to Jennifer Beale's iconic She's A Maniac dance break in 1983 classic. In the video's aftermath we are seeing the universal admiration of the black female body rather than the loathing, hatred and sexualisation of it- everyone (white people) wants to know who Teyana is and (literally everyone) wants to know how they can achieve a physique like hers.
We (black people) have known who Teyana Taylor is for going on a decade now. We've seen her go from Super Sweet Sixteen royalty to Rihanna Navy enemy and when her star continues to rise, she will undoubtably face questions about that time she was dropped by Adidas for making a poor "joke" about Rihanna's attack at the hands of Chris Brown. Despite mistakes she has made in the past, I am happy for Teyana Taylor. I look forward to watching her fly and making more beautiful art that with that finely honed instrument she calls a body.
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