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Fade, a celebration of black femininity, sexuality and maternity

We explore the cultural significance of Kanye West's 'Fade' video for black femininity

18th Sep 2016

Image Credit: Allure

As a young man I can honestly declare that I love the female body. I particularly love the black female body.

I say this because I know not enough men appreciate the black female body and how much black women have gone through over centuries to be considered beautiful against a European standard of beauty – we still have a long way to go but times are changing. In a terribly sexist and racist world which homogenises and appropriates black women I was pleasantly surprised when Kanye West revealed his hypersexual video ‘Fade’ at the MTV VMAs in August. At centre stage, in all her glory Teyana Taylor showed off her insanely sexy melanin body and impressive dance moves for the world to see – this ladies and gentlemen was art at its finest.

Beneath the surface

Rather than take this video at face value, one has to delve deeper through the layers and symbolism which is packed into four minutes of entertainment for the regular viewer. It’s an extremely morbid video which has been viewed over 18 million times worldwide but it is a culturally significant one as West unwittingly or not has showcased the biggest joint celebration of Black femininity, sexuality and maternity for centuries. The irony of Kanye West, a man married to Kim Kardashian, part of the Kardashian/Jenner clan who have been accused by black women all over social media for being the biggest appropriators of their voluptuous features, full lips and curvier figures, is something to be noted. It’s not that there is something wrong with Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner having a big butt or full lips (fake or not), it’s the fact that these features which are now celebrated in glossy magazines are the same features black women have been embarrassed and ridiculed for years for embracing.

The video is set in an empty gym, a half dressed and sweaty Teyana Taylor moves for the camera and playfully leads the viewer into her trance. The main highlight of the video is her flexibility exhibited masterfully through her dance moves. ‘Fade’ choreographer Jae Blaze said on Taylor’s performance: ‘The one word I can use for Teyana Taylor right now is “superwoman.” We had her dancing over and over again, and then if we saw something that she did on camera that was really cool and we wanted her to repeat it, she would do that.’

Black women who over many years have been fetishized for their unique features or culturally reprimanded for expressing their sexuality by black men

The video not only highlighted Taylor’s creative talents but did so in a way that allowed her to be empowered by the sensuality of her movements, her sexuality with the man she loves – her husband NBA forward Iman Schumpert stars in the video in a few steamy shower shots and her motherhood (the video captures a powerful scene with Teyana guarding her nine-month old baby daughter Iman Tayla Schumpert Jr).

Further evidence of the video’s empowerment of the GOOD Music artist is given by her comments in an interview where she said: ‘I was able to put all my emotions and all my excitement and all my intensity and all my hard work that I’ve been giving for so long into that moment.’ Kanye West has finally given his signee the right platform for her talents and beauty to be recognised, a woman who admitted she was struggling for opportunities in the music industry has now got her big break.

For those who think ‘Fade’ is borderline pornographic – you may actually have a point. Director Eli Russell Linnetz admitted he got his inspiration from ’70s and ’80s porn for skin texture and oiliness.’ However, it’s the rawness of this video which actually rescues Taylor from being objectified and allows her and all the different elements to her womanhood to be celebrated. She’s presented as a beautiful wife, a protective mother and a talented dance artist all in one – Kanye West has selflessly given her this huge platform. One commenter said: ‘It’s interesting for a woman to be portrayed in a music video as being physically strong, sexual and maternal at the same time. Normally women are either viewed in media as being one or the other: you’re either sexual or you’re a mother figure.’ This is particularly true for black women who over many years have been fetishized for their unique features or culturally reprimanded for expressing their sexuality by black men even when behaving in a similar manner to their white counterparts. A recent example of this is videos of black women twerking online being perceived as ghetto or trashy but when an all-white Russian dance team made a twerk video on Instagram it went viral and was even picked up by some News stations for being exotic and experimental.

Another interpretation of the video (which I have pondered over for weeks now) explained it as putting the watcher into an intensely sexual trance similar to if one was viewing a pornographic film but the watcher is suddenly woken up by a feeling of disgust at the moment when Teyana Taylor transforms into a cat – the devil is in the detail. I have watched ‘Fade’ over one hundred times this month and I still don’t expect the moment when Taylor morphs into a cat – it gives the same effect each time; a spine tingling chill. The same woman many people would have lusted over earlier in the video takes back control by morphing into a fierce lioness who watches over her family. There is a moment of introspection afterwards which leaves the watcher in a state of confusion and makes you question sexuality and why you found her sexy in the first place; the effect is so potent.

Kanye West

Fade is another example of Kanye West’s creative genius and audacity at work. Many would have expected him to tone it down after the outrage surrounding the release of his ‘Famous’ video which features naked wax models of your favourite celebrities including another woman by the name of Taylor who’s surname ends with an ‘S’. He must be given his due credited, an artist loved by all Keakie family members, the world just doesn’t seem to get Kanye now, but once they do, it will blow their minds. The way he takes high art and translates it through Hip Hop music is pioneering. Through this video I give him particular praise for celebrating black womanhood so masterfully.

He also incorporates Jamaican Dancehall and black culture skilfully through the video’s choreography. Choreographer Jae Blaze explained Kanye wanted to incorporate Jamaican ‘bruk back’ style into Taylor’s dancing which is the reason for her popping and locking throughout the scene. Another influence is the 1983 classic Ballet dance movie ‘Flashdance’ which shows the cycle of influence brought to a new generation of fans. It is truly exhilarating, West has introduced a fresh genre of dance to a Hip Hop audience which wouldn’t traditionally associate with it, he has merged a few genres (Hip Hop, Dancehall, Ballet) and has broken boundaries yet again.

Overall, Kanye’s great defence of the black body stems from giving her back the control. Teyana was free to shape the choreography and present her beauty to the world in the way in which she wanted. Over centuries, many black women were not afforded this freedom. Sarah Baartman was a black woman enslaved by Europeans in the 1800s and paraded around Europe in freak shows because of her voluptuous figure – her remains were kept by European scientists for experimentation and were not repatriated to her country until 2002. Black women during the days of slavery were accused of being savage sexual beings who needed to be tamed and this excuse was used by their masters to justify their vile sexual abuse. More recently during the 90s black women were mocked for their figures in magazines and not free to embrace their natural beauty – racism showed its ugly face again. Taylor is clearly free to express her sexuality in this sensual video and more importantly she is free to express her womanhood. ‘Fade’ was not only important for black women but it was important for art and culture as a whole, it’s time for black beauty to be celebrated in mainstream media.

Watch the video for Kanye West's "Fade" here:

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