Sex and violence: In pop culture, it's the one-two punch that knocks the wind out of just about everyone. Currently basking in its power is Erykah Badu.
The soul singer scored a mother lode of attention (and free publicity) this week with her new video "Window Seat," in which she strips nude and simulates getting shot in the head.
A single camera follows Badu for nearly five minutes as she walks through the streets of downtown Dallas, systematically stripping off her overcoat, sweatshirt, pants, sheer T-shirt, underwear and bra before falling to the ground as an unseen assassin fires at her. The video ends with Badu, a mother of three, bleeding blue on Elm Street, steps away from where President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
It's a shocking concept, though not an unprecedented one. The video for "Window Seat" was inspired by indie punk group Matt and Kim's "Lessons Learned" video, in which the duo strip down in New York's Times Square.
But Badu pushed the envelope with her bare bones, no-holds-barred approach to filming: "guerrilla style, no crew, 1 take, no closed set, no warning, 2 min., downtown dallas, then ran like hell," she tweeted after the March 17 shoot.
As her clothes came off, criticism followed. "they were yelling, THIS IS A PUBLIC PLACE: YOU OUGHTA BE ASHAMED: PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON: DAMN GIRL! etc...," Badu tweeted.
Arguably, it's the gunshot combined with her unclothed body that makes Badu's video truly provocative, just like it's the mass murder combined with the barely-there outfits that make Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video sensational.
To resonate in an age when footage of any kind of atrocity or turn-on can be dialed up on the Internet with a few keystrokes, more edge may be necessary. Beyonce Knowles worked the formula in her favor by bringing out the big (albeit plastic) guns in "Video Phone." Could we see a scantily clad songstress driving a tank soon?
Sure, in an industry where Gaga's over-the-top spectacle can share themes with Badu's bare-bones production, anything's possible. But while they may jolt viewers in their bid to get attention, according to both Badu and Jonas Akerlund, who directed Gaga's "Telephone," they don't employ sex and violence in videos for shock value. They aim to inspire and entertain.
"My music brings you encouragement , joy , light , tears , chuckles , babies, ... Change . It is my therapy . I'm naked," Badu tweeted Monday.
"For us it was a little action movie with a made-up, crazy story," Akerlund said recently of "Telephone." "You don't have to be so deep about things. For me, music videos are about entertaining and bringing out the music and the artist. The form itself allows you to be creatively free.
"I am a little weird and a little untraditional in how and why I tell stories in music videos. But I enjoy the fact that people go deep and see things in my work because it means the music got out there and got some attention."