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Video Vault: D’Angelo, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”

ANOTHER POST FOR OUR “THROWBACK THURSDAY” SEGMENT, VIDEO VAULT! ON SELECT THURSDAYS, WE DISCUSS OUR FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS THROUGH THE AGES. 

Inspired by our interview on D’Angelo’s Voodoo with Faith Pennick, it’s time to take a closer look at his infamous music video. The video’s featured song “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2001 and was named Rolling Stone’s fourth best single of 2000. There’s no denying the deep emotion that D’Angelo can’t contain when he croons this particular song, but I think we can all agree that it was the release of the music video that added new sexy, passionate, breathtaking layers and made his desire come alive.

The scandal began when the video first aired and quickly gained attention as fans and music lovers alike debated its intention and meaning. Lasting a slow 4 ½ minutes, it starts out with a smooth beat and an extreme close-up of D’Angelo. The shots are intimate, taking in the details of his face from the tips of his eyelashes to the curve of his lips when he begins to sing. As the music builds, the camera continues to take in every inch of skin, trailing down what the audience can only assume is his naked body before coming to a stop around his waist.

Though the video was undeniably powerful, D’Angelo capturing the audience with both his voice and his direct gaze, it was impossible to control the reactions to it. With the video featuring a continuous shot circling D’Angelo’s body coupled with his explicit, Prince-inspired lyrics, many fans were left swooning while many critics attacked him over the video’s hyper-sexual quality. The debate was divided along gendered lines as countless men complained about the “atrocity” that was a naked man singing. In response, women were quick to point out how often naked female bodies were the focus of music videos up to that point.

But regardless of personal opinion, the video certainly altered the course of his career, painting him as a sex icon instead of a serious musician. And while this new image may have gained him more fame, it wasn’t the kind he was hoping for. Though the song ultimately earned a fair amount of awards and praise, the video destroyed D’Angelo’s confidence, causing him to avoid the press and cancel performances. People began to question his legitimacy and reproached him for his self-objectification— particularly in regards to the Black male body—condemning his choices and the way they negatively reflected on Black musicians. 

Controversial and disruptive, the video generated positive and negative attention for Voodoo. For admiring viewers, it flips the gaze that is typically set upon female bodies, and is a celebration of sexuality, controlled by the artist at its center. It was those who opposed it that pulled the focus from the artistry of the music and video in favor of conversation on respectability. Overall, it is a poignant example of objectification and the pressures that musicians face from the media, and from themselves, as a result.

To learn more about this album and D’Angelo, check out our recent podcast episode D’Angelo’s Voodoo with Faith Pennick and read her blog series. And be sure to order a copy of Faith’s 33 1/3 book here.

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