In recent months, three of the most admired contemporary black female musical artists have come under fire. “The queen of hip-hop soul,” Mary J. Blige; the artiste commonly known as Erykah Badu; and perhaps the most celebrated female rapper of all time, Lauryn Hill, have been taken to task in the media for a number of reasons.
Blige was skewered for singing about crispy chicken wraps in a Burger King commercial and for having financial-mismanagement issues at her nonprofit charity, the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now. Blige released a statement apologizing for the kitschy ad, stating that she had not approved the final edit; she also apologized for and admitted wrongdoing about the money issues at FFAWN and said that those involved in the siphoning of $250,000 from TD Bank would be dealt with accordingly.
Badu teamed up with the Flaming Lips to film a video for their collaboration “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” In the video, a nude Badu writhes around in a bathtub. Badu hit the roof after the video was released, declaring via Twitter that she had not given approval for that release and blaming Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne for the mishap.
Coyne’s initial statement of contrition acknowledged the miscommunication. But then he engaged in a Twitter beef, at turns chastising Badu for feigning shock and awe over the controversial video, thanking her for helping to make it a hit by fanning the flames of controversy and also claiming that Badu should essentially be grateful to the band for keeping her relevant.
Then there’s Lauryn Hill, who is attempting a musical comeback after years as a semirecluse. Federal prosecutors have targeted her for racking up a bill of $1.5 million in unpaid taxes. Hill acknowledged that she hadn’t forked over the money, explaining that she placed the health, safety and freedom of her family over material concerns.
Although these three women have had different career paths and personal lives, one thing they share is a backlash when they attempt to control their images in the public sphere. Historically, black female bodies have been policed in society and in media, so when black female performers fight back against the misuse of their images — which are inextricably linked to their politicized bodies — and attempt to reclaim control over said bodies, they are often met with ridicule and rejection instead of support.