As heartthrobs, the male celebrity has an unstated ability to shape the self esteem of the females who adore him. This is an elevated ability silently extended to the black male celebrity and an opportunity that is often taken to uplift the “light skinned,” “mixed” or non black “exotic” woman. With this being said, Chris Brown, as the heartthrob he’s been for over ten years, has much more influence than rapper Tyga who is also featured on the song. For that reason, Brown will be the primary focus of this piece.
Lost Love for a Lyric
At the risk of ridicule, I will admit to being a fan of Chris Brown. Ever since seeing him perform/speak at Pace University as a seventeen year old high school student, I’ve been a fan of his talent. Unlike most of the world, Chris’ shenanigans and behavior haven’t blinded me from his musical abilities. My reaction stems from the belief that stars get too much attention, and over the last few years the politics of popular culture have seemed more strategic than spontaneous, and have prompted my indifference.
With this being said, Brown’s recent video for his song “Ayo” raises an eyebrow. Despite the misogyny encouraged over an intoxicating beat, I found myself in the lyric about “real hair,” appreciating that women who refrain from store bought strands were celebrated over their weaved or wigged out counterparts. I thought if Chris Brown was praising women for authentic strands, maybe young women would be inspired to embrace theirs.
However, these sentiments were cut short upon seeing the video for the song. To say that this video, which features numerous racially ambiguous women to embody the women with “real” hair, fell short of my expectations would be an understatement. This fact is emphasized in their juxtaposition to the sole “brown” or black woman in the video. With a cameo by comedian and actor Mike Epps, Brown and collaborator Tyga make an attempt at comedy, at the expense of the black woman.
In this video Epps plays a police officer. Viewers see him parked on a bridge watching Brown and Tyga drag race expensive cars. It is not until he gets a call on the radio that we see a black woman emerge from his lap, clearly interrupted in performing fellatio. In a later scene, we see this woman’s short wig pulled from her scalp by Epps, revealing a white wig or stocking cap. The gesture is an attempt at the crude humor that made Epps a household name, however the desired chuckles are stifled as my black femininity is the butt of the joke.
“Overseeing” the Black Male Celebrity
While I do not excuse Brown and Tyga for the images, the implementation of such images is undoubtedly under the execution of the white executives that conveniently oversee the video. The behind the scenes footage revealed Andrew Listerman (of Riveting Entertainment) as the executive producer and Colin Tilly as the director, both white men. This revelation continues in the pattern of white males narrating, and profiting from the black experience.
In this particular instance we have white men narrating the experience of the young black male celebrity. This experience is of course as cliche as expected, consisting of expensive cars, recklessness embodied in the dumping of cash in a pool, a large mansion full of scantily clad women with creamy skin and big hair and the sole black woman ridiculed and degraded while her lighter counterparts are praised.
The fair skinned, racially ambiguous women adorn the lavish mansion like a pretty, expensive ornament, whereas the darker woman performs a cheap thrill. These images represent pawns in a similar game, each with vastly different purposes. Under the surveillance and creative direction of white males, these women perform in a manner similar to the plantation. The women, despite their hue are all objectified, but it is solely the black woman who is hyper sexualized. This continued perpetuation of the less beautiful, but sexually exploited black woman anchors black female portrayal to the western perception that has hovered over her since her arrival in the late 17th century.
The issue with this perpetuation surfacing in a Chris Brown music video is that despite the diversity of Brown’s fan base, it remains largely composed of black women. Thus, it’s placement serves as a subliminal reminder to black women of their place not only with the rich and famous, but in society. In the same breath, we see that western constructs of blackness surface in the black male celebrity, casually returning its female counterpart to her past portrayals for a good laugh.
Who exactly isn’t loyal?
Ironically, Brown made waves last spring with the release of his hit single “Loyal.” This single persuasively croons his audience to understand that loyalty is non existent for the male celebrity. Interestingly, I feel this loyalty is just as fickle for the black female. Our participation is solicited for television show ratings, concert and album sales yet our portrayal is a common source of ridicule at the expense of allowing our lighter or racially ambiguous counterparts to shine.
I’m also personally tired of the light skin/long hair assumption. It seems many assume light skin is synonymous with long hair, when long hair, like light skin is synonymous with an individual’s gene pool. Women of darker complexions are unfairly eliminated from the long hair aesthetic, and this Chris Brown video is no exception. While admittedly I find the video personally problematic, this portrayal is of larger offense. The ‘Ayo’ video perpetuates the constructs of blackness created to uphold white supremacy.
What is frightening about this portrayal is that is operates subliminally. So while it may just seem like a coincidence that the lighter woman are cast as eye candy, this image is carefully implemented to target the sub conscious of its viewers.
The Stain of Subversive Statements
Due to contemporary society’s infatuation with the indirect approach, many feel because it is not shouted from the mountaintop that “black women are ugly” or “black women are bald headed” that we as a country have come along way. I would actually say that the subconscious approach is much worse.
Now the millions of girls who consider Brown as their dream man will see racial ambiguity as the way to center stage in his videos. His young fans of darker complexion will internalize their reduction to performing fellatio in order to gain airtime. They will also internalize that it is only the white and light skin girls who have the “real hair” celebrated in the song.
Many will counter my observations, and render Brown and his team clueless to such observations. And while that assessment may be an excuse for some, this oblivion is the very point of this discussion.
To live on your knees or die on your feet?
The cavalier disregard for clearly racist intentions is the catalyst for an enlightened individual’s daily frustration. We live in a world where That So Raven, excuses commentary that correlated the First Lady’s looks to an ape. We live in a world were Pharrell Williams preaches of a “new black” but steals some of the “old black” to breed success for a blue- eyed soul singer.
Together, Raven, Williams and others like them urge the black diaspora to forget in order to “live.” However, to forget is to exist on your knees, but to remember is to live on your feet. Those who came before us died on their feet for us to have the opportunity to live on ours. Thus, anyone who denies the perils of the past is doomed to a lifetime of mental enslavement.
Now while I am not suggesting that popular culture is without silver lining, I am suggesting that its faults not be overlooked. It is imperative that we as a community acknowledge that popular culture is often a source of psychological slavery, branded as entertainment.
“Ayo” joins numerous other pop culture performances created for viewers to dance their way back to slavery. “Ayo,” like many others before it, casts a beat and an image to steer viewers back into the same shackles that bound us to the dreams of our western conquerors- dreams of our royalty recreated in the image of their superiority. It is through the simplicity of a music video or catchy tune that blacks continue to manifest the destiny of their oppressors.
Now, I don’t write this article to bash Chris Brown as a person or as an entertainer. I also do not wish to dispel his presence as one of the greatest talents of our generation. I do however wish to expose the power of his platform to exploit the masses. I can only hope that my analysis provides insight into the power of the black male celebrity. But perhaps most importantly, I hope my assertions shed light on how both the “entertainer” and the “entertained” play roles in perpetuating pollution via popular culture.