Dear Kiely

11 Apr

Dear Kiely,

A friend of mine was really upset about your video (I think a lot of people were) and has reached out asking folks to write an open letter to you as she did. I wanted to talk about your videos and say my peace (intentional spelling) so this seemed like a great invitation.

First, I’m not trying to lecture you about what you should be doing. I get that women are sandwiched between this virgin/whore rock and hard place and that you in particular are marked with your girlhood empowered Cheetahdom that you hoped “Spectacular” would help you shed.  I just find it disturbing that the mature womanly reincarnation of your image involves the glorification of date rape.

I know that you say that the song isn’t about date rape, that sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes you kiss a girl and you like it (that song is f*cked up too by the way and yet not at all on the level of insinuating as you do in your song that date rape is just another wild night on the town) but the flippant nature of these remarks belie the messages in the video. By suggesting in your song that you were so drunk the evening comes in pictures, you blacked out, feel like you are on drugs, that you don’t remember dude’s name or if he used a condom its unclear how you remember that the sex was spectacular or that you were able to give consent. It also makes it seem, as did your response video, that women are being irresponsible and it’s their fault that they get into these situations. The problem is them, their wild drinking and their out of control behavior as opposed to questioning a situation in which a woman isn’t even present enough to say yes or no to sex, let alone the use of a condom.

And how come when you are trying to convince us that the sex was spectacular, it’s only through violent metaphor i.e. blowing one’s back out? And though I’ve never worn tracks myself, I have it on good authority that it would be pretty painful if one was torn out of your hair. Is the sex not good if you’re not in pain the next day?  Mad love to the kink community but this song and many others on R&B airwaves lack a level of intentionality and consent that puts them in a different category for me.

Kiely, I know that this isn’t just about you; it’s a systemic problem that will take more than a youtube video defense of yourself to undo. There is probably a lot of pressure for you to make a splash and distance yourself from the safe, girl power image of your teen years, but I wonder if you couldn’t have thought about that distancing as maturation. How dope would it have been to have seen an empowered totally consensual one night stand play out on screen and imagined in your lyrics? Why does it have to be a walk of shame the morning after? Also, what’s with the scene of the white guy trailing you for a few feet even as he’s with another partner? Why is the video set up to cash in on overplayed stereotypes about sex workers and working class neighborhoods? It seems that all of these decisions could have been different and could have really opened a dialog about the culture of hooking up and how women can do so in a safer and ultimately more pleasing way for them.

With fierce love,

Moya B.

P.S. I totally still bump Cinderella all the time!

* Update*

Check out this video response to Spectacular, with more information about how to get involved!

9 Responses to “Dear Kiely”

  1. fal25 April 11, 2010 at 4:41 PM #

    Great post.

    I must say I had the same reaction to the video.

  2. Asha April 11, 2010 at 5:37 PM #

    I just saw this video for the first time. Your post is on point. I’m watchng this with a friend who pointed out that we laugh at people like this (people who say a song is just a song– don’t be so critical), but seldom believe they really exist. I can’t believe the response, or that she misses the point of the complaints, or that she doesn’t understand that consent requires at least enough sobriety to remember if a condom was used. This really makes me angry.

  3. nualacabral April 11, 2010 at 6:43 PM #

    This is a strong analysis, girl. You ask great questions. I love how you emphasize that this is not just about her– acknowledging the context in which this song was produced. I think it’s smart to be critical without demonizing her– which would only undermine our message of empowerment, sexual health, etc. I also appreciate your analysis of other parts of the video that reinforce other stereotypes, around sex workers for example.

    here’s a link to my open letter:

  4. susiemaye April 11, 2010 at 7:27 PM #

    Thanks for the great analysis–I love the notion of speaking your peace. (Maybe I should’ve done that for old TP…then again, lol).

    I saw on Young, Black, and Fabulous that KW has also released a written statement:

    I am an actor and performer. I have been so since my first role in a television pilot at five years old. I played a character when I was a “Cheetah Girl.” I am playing a character in the music video for the song “Spectacular,” as I did in the “Cheetah Girl” movies. The fact is, that sometimes women get intoxicated and have unprotected sex. My video puts this issue front and center. It is absurd to infer or suggest that I am condoning this behavior. Are Lady Gaga and Beyonce advocating murder with the “Telephone” video? Of, course not. Was Rihanna encouraging suicide with “Russian Roulette?” No. Was Madonna suggesting that young unmarried girls get pregnant with “Papa Don’t Preach?” I don’t think so. Is Academy Award winner Monique a proponent of incest because of her portrayal of Mary in the movie “Precious.” Clearly, the answer is no. I wrote “Spectacular” and made the video to bring attention to a serious women’s health and safety issue. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    Again, as you have cogently and graciously pointed out, her perspective could stand for a little bit more rigor. I did not see a public service announcement in “Spectacular,” despite KW’s insistence that she is a messenger. A messenger of nonsense, perhaps. Thanks again for the peace.

  5. Aisha Durham April 12, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    You are: Always on point. Always on time.

    I’m trying to digest this song, this video… I can’t at this moment.

    Your post on this blog speaks to the need to redefine what constitutes “girl power” in this moment. Her song and the Katy Perry song she references seek (sexual) empowerment in a disempowering way. It reminds of the reasons why I first shrugged at the collapse of hip hop feminism with the girl-pussy-power-postfeminism (and to some extent the third wave). We have pointed to the references of date rape, street harassment, and sex tourism. In the video she chooses her forgettable lover, leaves him in the morning, and rejects the male advances on the street. Within “her” girl power framework, this is power. This dreamworld is sold back to us as empowerment devoid of the very complexities you point to in your analysis. With this conflation of hip hop feminism with the depoliticized pussy power agenda, the sexual “liberation” and experimentation (which “can” be radical and revolutionary no doubt) is not addressed within the nexus of racial-sexual politics.

    I am trying to digest this song, this video. I can’t at this moment. I am trying to think through her youtube defense – her discussion of intent, her so-called conscious raising, and the role of the artist and art itself. In dramatically different ways, Badu raised similar points after Window Seat. (Yes, ya’ll she did.) It would be interesting to juxtapose these conversations alongside one each other to understand how the body is deployed and consumed differently. I think the two speak to different politics of the body – and more importantly different political projects and agendas. And for that reason alone, it is fruitful to place them in conversation.

  6. crunkista April 13, 2010 at 11:34 AM #

    This analysis has been very powerful. Thank you for your insight. Now if I can only get that damn chorus out of my head. Grrr….

  7. Benee April 15, 2010 at 8:17 PM #

    Like, I hear you… I REALLY do… But I don’t think its this deep. We can deconstruct everything, but having had these kinds of nights and done the walk of shame, I understand that it happens, it isnt always rape, and while it shouldn’t be glorified, it’s part of life for some.

  8. moyazb April 15, 2010 at 9:13 PM #

    @ Benne Thanks for your perspective. Why do you co-sign on that label “the walk of shame?” Did you feel ashamed for your actions? Did you feel responsible because you were drunk? I think we have internalized this stuff so deeply that we don’t even see these incidents in the larger context from which they come. Check out this other letter to Kiely. I’d love your thoughts on it.


  1. Open Letter to Kiely Williams « Bravebird Sing - April 11, 2010

    […] around sex while under the influence of alcohol, is difficult to qualify as consensual. This is why some argue that your song makes light of […]

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