Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Is Spectacular Sex?

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column
(This is the original piece I submitted to my editor and because of my contract certain discussions re: pleasurable sex had to be omitted. This piece includes that discussion. I also plan to update this list with new conversations/links to analysis by people of Color regarding this video).

***Trigger Warning***

While visiting Trinity College this week I asked some female-identified students what their thoughts were regarding Kiely Williams’ new video “Spectacular.” I have yet to hear too many conversations among their/your community about this video. This question is similar to my question asking you all what you thought about Eryka Badu’s video that was getting so much attention a few weeks ago.

One hundred percent of all the people present had no idea who or what I was talking about. So we went to the Internet and found the video. Upon seeing her face, several of the women identified Kiely from her Cheetah Girls days and we watched and listened to the video together. It was a very fascinating conversation. If you have yet to see the video check it out below (NSFW):

We then watched Kiely’s response to the public’s discussion on her video, which you can see below:

Many of my favorite homegirls are writing about the video. I first read the analysis from the Crunk Feminist Collective that my homegirl Maegan La Mamita Mala Ortiz had shared. Then my homegirl Janna wrote a piece about how this song seems to be an anthem for “drunken blackout sex” which teases out a few areas that are often overlooked. My homegirl AJ, who is the Sexual Correspondent for has a recent piece up: Not So “Spectacular”: Kiely Williams, Black Erotics, and Sexual Responsibility which highlights several points regarding sexual assault, imagery, and HIV and STI rates among Black people living in the US. AJ then shared the writing of Carolyn Edgar who wrote Pimps Up, Hoes Up: Sexing Your Way To Your 15 Minutes of Fame which analyses this and a recent video created by a young woman of Color named Kat Stacks who identifies as having slept with numerous singers, rappers and/or celebrities.

In an effort to not redo what has already been done, and been done well, I want to focus on two specific topics: 1. Reaction by young people, 2. What is “spectacular” sex?

After watching the video with a group of students at Trinity College, one young woman admitted she was “confused” by the video. She did not know what to think, how to react, or how to properly consume the video and the lyrics of the film as well as Kiely’s response to the video. Others, as they watched, laughed and said “she’s a wreck [as an artist],” raised their eyebrows, and took deep breaths. We discussed this video alongside Eryka Badu’s video “Window Seat,” and the conversation was one I did not expect.

Many of the people present did not see anything overtly “wrong” with the video by Williams (or Badu for that matter). I thought it interesting that there was an interpretation of control and power in both videos. There are some ways that I can understand this perspective, after all media literacy skills do recognize that people have different perspectives and therefore different interpretations. I can see how Kiely’s decision to leave her partner’s apartment quickly when she awakened is a form of power for some viewers. That Kiely chose to be there and had the ability to leave when she chose to is important for many. I wonder if the confusion and the awkward discussions by artists are what makes such videos/songs/etc. easy to dismiss.

Then there are the amazing forms of media that is being made by young people, especially young people of Color and young women around the video. There are several videos that they have created that either capture their first consumption of the video and song or discussing their critique and/or praise of the video. One of the first that come up in a YouTube search is by PoeticallyChanged whose immediate response was “is she on the stroll” which is a term used to identify certain areas where sex workers find clients. PoeticallyChanged rolls her eyes, thinks the partner in the video is “ugly,” and sits quietly for most of the video. Later in her discussion she questions why Kiely gives the two Black men the finger but is smitten when the White man approaches her. Check out her video (and the comments) below:

MzDTH has also created a video discussing Kiely’s song and video and her decision is that the dancing was terrible, the budget was clearly low, and the partner was ugly. Her final message was that Kiely looks like a “ho” and that she was disappointed. Lillady2491 shares her perspective and also says she is disappointed. She asks “is that the real you” which is a very thoughtful question. If all of us do not have the same media literacy skills, how can we decipher between what is real and what is not?

Men are also discussing the video. For example, EducatedX has commentary, which also pulls on the Kiely looking like a sex worker, why is she wearing a fur coat to a club, and then spends a bit of time talking about why Kiely dissed Black men in the video. He shares that he does not “get it,” the “it” as in her goal for this song and video. Prince Ea begins his media watching the video as he acts as if he is masturbating while watching and says Kiely went “from Disney to Lewinski.” He also does a further analysis of Ke$ha and Rihanna and seeks to begin a dialogue on what is going on in society. He asks: “Are we depicting healthy images of beauty, self respect, self understanding?” Another video by a man I’d like to highlight is by Vandalyzm who shares how the young women of 3LW have all evolved (mentioning Naturi Naughton who played Lil Kim in the film Notorious.) One video I’d like to highlight (and because it does not have any profanity in it) is by pointthemout and he mentions “beer goggles”! Take a look:

So what is “spectacular sex”? I have my own list of what can make sex spectacular for me, and they are based on trial and error. I’ll share my bias: spectacular sex for me, includes no fear of contracting HIV or any sort of STI for any activity and no fear of unplanned pregnancy, when both my partner and I appreciate and accept one another’s bodies, when we both give consent, when our options are endless for various activities (yes this includes a mash-up of condoms available, toys, and good music!). Yet, how do you think others may define “spectacular sex”? More importantly, what is spectacular sex for YOU? Does your partner(s) agree?

I’ll admit that I don’t think it’s often that music videos are made to have viewers understand and acknowledge that human sexual response/arousal exists and is real. I write this because I have no idea if what Kiely thinks “spectacular” sex is may be a result of human sexual response, specifically orgasm, or what the bodies of some people may experience post-sex (think afterglow perhaps). I think some folks may also think that if after a night of sex with a partner if they have any visual signs or reminders of the interaction that this means it was “spectacular.” Kiely herself does her “walk of shame” with her left arm still dangling a handcuff. I think of how there were times when getting hickey’s really made me feel powerful because it was something other folks could see that let them know I was 1. desired and 2. Getting some action. I’m no longer a huge fan of such outward markings by certain lovers, but I do understand that desire and value.

I’ll leave you with a video that I find very useful and that is a call to action for those of you who seek/need/want to be active around this video and it’s imagery and how you interpret what is presented by freedomreeves:

What do you think? What is spectacular sex? What are your responses/reactions to Kiely’s video? All this talk about obesity and dieting, is it time for what Elizabeth Thoman calls a “media diet”?


  1. I have about a thousand comments on this mujer. I actually showed the video to some of my students and la Mapu and was surprised not by their reaction but the conversations about sexuality that it brought out in terms of what is "spectacular" about sex and how young woman of color are given such limiting messages about what their choices are in terms claiming a positive sexuality. I'm gonna write about it over on my personal blog so I don't clog up your shit. :)

  2. what is up with her video response?

    in response to that it's not promoting date rape she says - "it's just not" - what kind of response is that? I mean I know there is a lot more to the subject of alcohol and consent. But when a POC points out that something is racist, for example, can the creator just say "it's not racist, it's just not?" and expect to be off the hook? I mean even if there's more to it, they can't expect to give a response like that and have it be accepted.

    And If it's not her idea of a perfect Saturday Night how would we know that? Meanwhile the video, if it has any perspective, is glamorizing all of that behavior, so it's giving a judgement in the other way. You mentioned how some people commented that she had control when to leave in the video. Well how much control did Kiely have over the song and video she chose to make? From her video response it seems like she loves and revels in the attention and doesn't really care about the message. She said "maybe it's something we need to talk about" but trite reponses like "it's not promoting date rape, it just not" isn't really a conversation.